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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: Montana Sheep, Moose, Goat, Bison

MONTANA'S 2021 BIGHORN SHEEP, MOOSE, MOUNTAIN GOAT AND BISON APPLICATION OVERVIEW

Jump to: State Information Draw System Rocky Bighorn Breakdown Shiras Moose Breakdown Mountain Goat Breakdown Bison Breakdown

The application deadline for Montana moose, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goat and bison is May 1, 2021 at 11:45 p.m MST. The application process is done completely online here or in any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (Montana FWP) office.

Before applying, hopeful applicants are encouraged to look over the trophy species application worksheet, which can be found here for residents and here for nonresidents. The list of available hunt codes for each species that nonresidents can apply for changes every year. A detailed breakdown of 2021 hunt choices can be found in each of the species sections.


State information

View important information and an overview of the Montana rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points, SuperTags, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the Species Profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.

Montana State Profile Rocky Bighorn Profile Moose Profile Mountain Goat Profile Bison Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0 goHUNT MAPS

Important dates and information

  • Applications for moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison must be submitted by 11:45 p.m MST on May 1, 2021.
  • Applications can be submitted online here after March 1, 2021.
  • An 80% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested by Aug. 1, 2021.
  • A 50% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested after Aug. 1, 2021.
  • Draw results are generally available in mid-May.
  • Successful applicants must purchase their drawn permit by Aug. 1, 2021.
  • Preference and bonus points are available for purchase for nonresidents who did not apply in the general drawing between July 1 and Sept. 30 for a fee. See more information here.

Current weather/snowpack

2021

Montana NRCS

Montana snow water equivalent as of March 01, 2021. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

2020

Montana snow water equivalent as of March 2020

Montana snow water equivalent as of March 30, 2020. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

The Montana draw system

Understanding the draw

It is important to understand the draw system before you begin. You can find a complete explanation of the drawing process along with important dates and fees in our Montana State Profile. As a prerequisite, residents and nonresidents must at least possess a base hunting license before applying. The cost for the base hunting license is $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.

Nonresident tag allocation

Montana grants nonresidents up to 10% of a district’s tag quota; however, the 10% is not guaranteed. Some years, the nonresident applicant pool will fill the entire 10% cap and other years it can be significantly less.

Points only option

If applicants are simply looking to build points for the current year — both preference and bonus — they can skip the expensive application prerequisites. Bonus points can be purchased between July 1 and Sept. 30 for $75 per species.

Bison hunts

Unlike moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat, the bison permits in Montana do not use a point system and are distributed entirely through a random draw.

How do my bonus points work?

Montana runs solely on a bonus point system via a random lottery drawing. A few years ago, Montana began squaring each applicant's points in an effort to weight the draws in the odds of those individuals possessing the most points. Two points become four, five points become 25 and so on. Points are earned after an applicant is unsuccessful in drawing his or her preferred tag. Points cost $2 for residents and $20 for nonresidents. Each year a hunter is unsuccessful, another point will be added to their tally to be used during the following year. Once a tag is successfully drawn, the applicant forfeits their points. Points may only be used on first choice tags and cannot be transferred. Bison is the only animal on the list that does not use bonus points.

Rotating season schedule and nonresident draw odds

The list of hunts available for nonresidents to apply for changes every year for Montana moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat. Some units will be available year after year, primarily those with high tag numbers, but it is entirely possible for an applicant to apply for a hunt this year and have it not be an option the next. This small caveat can turn into a big deal and hunters will need to be acutely aware of these changes. A detailed breakdown of available hunts for 2021 is provided in the respective species breakdowns below.

Because of this rotation, there will be years where gaps of draw odds data will be present for nonresident applicants. When researching for the upcoming application, you may notice errors on some hunts that states “This hunt does not have odds available for your selected residency.” This is simply indicating that this particular hunt was not available to nonresidents during the previous draw cycle. 


Montana's 2021 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep breakdown

When it comes to trophy species in Montana, none is more highly regarded or dreamed about than the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Montana has long since been known as the king of giant rams and is currently sitting atop the Boone and Crockett (B&C) ranking sheet for the largest ram in the world. As with all other bighorn sheep states, the odds on the hunts are dismally steep, but with Montana’s draw system, there is always a chance of drawing a permit. Additionally, for those with an impatient attitude and an appetite for adventure, Montana offers five hunting districts with over-the-counter (OTC) bighorn sheep permits. These unlimited districts are considered among the hardest tags in the lower 48 to fill and hunters will be met with impossibly rugged country, brutal hunting conditions and low bighorn sheep numbers. The payoff? The adventure and trophy of a lifetime.

Ten-year harvest trends for Montana Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep

Year Rams taken Average base Average horn length
2011 127 15.28” 36”
2012 125 15.82” 35.02”
2013 124 15.40” 36.25”
2014 120 15.38” 36.48”
2015 122 15.24” 35.81”
2016 125 15.25” 35.92”
2017 120 15.54” 36.43”
2018 126 15.47” 35.96”
2019 115 15.48” 36.08”
2020 123 15.17” 35.47”

Current Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd condition

The herd condition for bighorn sheep in Montana is great after a rough patch over the last few years due to pneumonia. While the risk for the disease is still high, Montana FWP has been very proactive in taking measures to prevent this. The winter of 2020-21 has been fairly normal by comparison and herds should be in for a healthy spring.

Montana Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tag quotas and allocations

Year Tag quota Drawn by residents Drawn by nonresidents Unlimited Hunting District (HD) applicants
2012 230 218 12 113
2013 230 211 19 202
2014 256 242 14 233
2015 259 242 17 302
2016 320 299 21 297
2017 314 294 20 306
2018 311 285 26 314
2019 284 265 19 243
2020 269 251 18 268
2021 268 -- -- --

Montana’s unlimited bighorn sheep hunting districts

A common thread of discussion around social media and hunting forums is the unlimited districts (300, 303, 500, 501, 502) in Montana. These five districts give out an unlimited amount of tags every year and the hunts are conducted on a quota system. Once a harvest quota for a certain unit is met the unit will close to all bighorn sheep hunting 48 hours later. During the 48-hour period, hunters are still allowed to hunt and harvest bighorn sheep and some units do occasionally see a higher actual harvest than what the quota called for.

While these hunts sound like a dream come true it is important to remember that these tags are often considered some of the hardest to fill in North America. The country is enormous, extremely remote and bighorn sheep densities are low. Generally, trophy potentials are also low (140” to 160”), but rams nearing the 180” mark can and have been killed.

When applying for unlimited districts, it is important to note that the hunt must be listed as your first choice. If you choose to participate in the bonus point program during your application, you will lose all of your accumulated points once the permit is drawn. Instead, choose to not participate in points so you can draw the tag without it affecting your point count. By doing so, you will also be ineligible to build a point for that year.

2020 Montana unlimited bighorn sheep breakdown

HD Permits drawn Sheep
taken
2020 quota HD quota met
300 62 1 2 NA
303 44 2 2 10/26/2020
500 57 3 2 9/22/2020
501 65 7 2 9/19/2020
502 40 3 2 11/24/2020

2021 nonresident bighorn sheep districts

Every year, the available districts for nonresidents to apply for bighorn sheep will change, which means that the district you apply for this year may or may not be available to apply for the following year.

Nonresident bighorn sheep hunt districts for 2021

Either sex or any ram permits
123-20 212-20 214-60 330-10
421-20 482-20 622-20 680-20
Ewe only permits
482-30 622-30 680-30 680-31
Unlimited permits
300-60 303-60 500-60 501-60
502-60      

Selecting your unit of choice

When it comes to building your application strategy for Montana bighorn sheep, there is really only one secret: there isn’t one. Montana is such a high profile state for bighorn sheep and odds for every hunt at every point level are drastically stacked against you. Still, with Montana’s straightforward draw system, there is always a sliver of hope in pulling a permit. 

The biggest rams in the state have most consistently been found in the units in and around the Missouri River Breaks (482, 620, 622 and 680). These units generally see the most applicants and the lowest odds, but they do offer the most permits for both residents and nonresidents.

goHUNT’s hit list to consider for 180” or better rams in Montana
(not in order of quality)

HD Trophy
potential
2020 hunter
success
Avg. horn
length
Avg. base
circumference
Nonresident
in 2020?
622 190”+ 82% 36.7” 15.2” Yes
680 190”+ 70% 36.7” 16” Yes
121 185”+ 100% 34.9” 15.2” No
124 185”+ 100% 33.7” 15.7” No
203 185”+ 100% 36.7” 16” No
482 185”+ 76% 37.3” 15.4” Yes
261 180”+ 100% 37.7” 14.3” No
270 180”+ 100% 36.6” 15.6” No
380 180”+ 100% -- -- No

Managing points and expectations

MONTANA ROCKY BIGHORN SHEEP BONUS POINTS FROM THE 2020 DRAW

MONTANA RESIDENT BIGHORN SHEEP BONUS POINT TOTALS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

MONTANA NONRESIDENT BIGHORN SHEEP BONUS POINT TOTALS AFTER 2020 DRAW

Really, when it comes to applying for bighorn sheep, the unfortunate truth is that even with maximum points the odds are still incredibly steep with less than 2% to 3% separating all of the units. When beginning your application strategy for Montana, your best bet is to simply pick a unit to your liking and just keep rolling the dice every year. With Montana running a modified lottery system, there is always an opportunity to draw.

Nonresidents will need to pay special attention from year to year as the list of available units is rotated. The unit you applied for in 2020 may not be available in 2021.

Find your resident Rocky bighorn draw odds here

Find your nonresident Rocky bighorn draw odds here


Montana's 2021 Shiras moose breakdown

Montana has long stood as one of the better Shiras states of the West although populations have been on a slight decline in recent years. As with other moose tags in the West, draw odds are incredibly steep; however, anyone lucky enough to draw a tag will be in for the hunt of a lifetime

Ten-year harvest trends for Montana moose

Year Total harvest Bulls taken Cows taken Calves taken
2011 294 245 42 6
2012 275 241 33 1
2013 263 227 32 4
2014 278 252 24 2
2015 268 232 35 1
2016 261 229 27 6
2017 270 236 26 8
2018 246 216 25 5
2019 245 217 26 2
2020 257 220 35 2

Current moose herd condition

Moose populations, particularly those on the extreme west side of the state, have seen some declines in the past few years. The declines have largely been blamed on wolves and ticks; however, biologists all across the western states are continuing to investigate this. In general, Montana moose should see more of the “norm” for 2021 and anyone with a tag will be in for a good hunt. 

Montana moose tag quotas and allocations

Year Tag quota Drawn by residents Drawn by nonresidents
2012 360 349 11
2013 368 351 17
2014 365 353 12
2015 361 342 19
2016 361 347 14
2017 354 341 13
2018 350 335 15
2019 348 330 18
2020 341 326 15
2021 343 -- --

Montana moose entered into B&C record book since 2010 - updated app strategy 2020

2021 nonresident Shiras moose hunt districts

Every year, the available districts for nonresidents to apply for moose will change, which means that the district you apply for this year may or may not be available to apply for the following year.

Nonresident moose districts for 2021

Antlered bull permits
100-50 101-50 105-50 106-50
110-50 111-50 121-50 122-50
125-50 126-50 214-50 215-50
220-50 300-50 301-50 302-50
303-50 309-50 310-50 311-50
312-50 314-50 315-50 319-50
398-50 494-20    
Antlerless permits
300-00 301-00 302-00 303-00
320-00      

Finding hidden gem HDs

When it comes to any of the trophy game species, the unfortunate truth is that hunters will never really find any hidden or overlooked hunt units. However, there are definitely some districts that can offer marginally better draw odds, especially when you get into the upper end of the points game


Managing points and expectations

MONTANA SHIRAS MOOSE BONUS POINTS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

MONTANA RESIDENT SHIRAS MOOSE BONUS POINT TOTALS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

MONTANA NONRESIDENT MOOSE BONUS POINT TOTALS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

When it comes to applying for moose in Montana, applicants won’t see a lot of hope at low point levels. However, once an applicant reaches the 10+ point level, a few hunts will begin to jump out with better odds. When beginning your application strategy for Montana, the best bet is to simply pick a unit to your liking and just keep rolling the dice every year. With Montana running a modified lottery system, there is always an opportunity to draw.

Nonresidents will need to pay special attention from year to year as the list of available units is rotated. The unit you applied for in 2020 may not be available in 2021.

Find your resident moose draw odds here

Find your nonresident moose draw odds here


Montana's 2021 Rocky Mountain goat breakdown

This is, perhaps, one of the most adventure-inducing hunts in the West. Rocky Mountain goats live in some of the roughest country in Montana. Some hunts can provide easier access into goat habitat while others will provide a far more in-depth backcountry experience. Draw odds for mountain goats tend to be slightly higher than for moose and bighorn sheep, but hunters will still definitely be in for a potentially long wait. 

Ten-year harvest trends for Montana mountain goat

Year Total harvest Billies taken Nannies taken
2011 174 117 51
2012 213 146 67
2013 208 NA* NA*
2014 213 136 77
2015 179 121 58
2016 172 102 70
2017 142 80 61
2018 131 82 48
2019 126 95 32
2020 137 93 43

*Montana FWP did not collect any individual data for billy and nanny harvest for this year.

Current mountain goat herd condition

As can be observed in the table below, permit quotas for Rocky Mountain goats in Montana have been on a steady decline in recent years. While nothing has been officially stated as a direct cause of this decrease, it is generally accepted that a decline of nutrient-rich foods coupled with the slow reproduction nature of mountain goats are major factors. Even with lower tag numbers — and lower draw odds — anyone holding a tag in 2021 will be in for a great hunt.

Montana mountain goat tag quotas and allocations

Year Tag quota Drawn by residents Drawn by nonresidents
2012 292 268 24
2013 292 265 27
2014 282 257 25
2015 241 220 21
2016 231 217 17
2017 218 200 18
2018 183 167 16
2019 178 166 12
2020 179 164 15
2021 179 -- --

2021 nonresident mountain goat hunt districts

Every year, the available districts for nonresidents to apply for mountain goat will change, which means that the district you apply for this year may or may not be available to apply for the following year. 

Nonresident Rocky Mountain goat districts for 2021

Either-sex permits
313-20 314-20 316-20 323-20
326-20 327-20 329-20 330-20
331-20 350-20 393-20 518-20

The goHUNT hitlist for Montana Rocky Mountain goat 

When it comes to any of the trophy game species, the unfortunate truth is that hunters will never really find any hidden or overlooked hunt units. However, there are definitely some districts that can offer marginally better draw odds, especially when you get into the upper end of the points game


Managing points and expectations

MONTANA MOUNTAIN GOAT BONUS POINTS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

Montana resident mountain goat bonus points after the 2020 draw

MONTANA NONRESIDENT MOUNTAIN GOAT BONUS POINT TOTALS AFTER THE 2020 DRAW

Draw odds for residents are great once they get around the 10-point level and up. Nonresidents will still struggle even at maximum points, but odds here are still competitive with any other western state. Generally speaking, the best odds will be found in the districts handing out the most tags (313, 314, 316, 323 and 329) and these can be great routes for lower point holders to consider. When beginning your application strategy for Montana, your best bet is to simply pick a unit to your liking and just keep rolling the dice every year. With Montana running a modified lottery system, there is always an opportunity to draw.

Nonresidents will need to pay special attention from year to year as the list of available units is rotated. The unit you applied for in 2020 may not be available in 2021.

Find your resident mountain goat draw odds here

Find your nonresident mountain goat draw odds here


Montana's 2021 bison breakdown

Bison is one of the more unique opportunities in Montana. The bison hunt is centered around herds from Yellowstone National Park that migrate outside of the park boundaries during the winter months. Because hunters are so heavily reliant on the bison leaving park boundaries, the weather is the biggest controlling factor for harvest success. During periods of light snow, very few bison will leave the park and, consequently, very few hunters will be given any opportunity.

Bison tags can be obtained in one of two ways: a permit tag or a roster hunt. With the permit, hunt tags will be distributed through a drawing like all of the other species in Montana. One caveat to bison is that there are no bonus points available for the species and all of the drawings are conducted through an entirely random lottery. Roster hunts are used primarily for population control during years where a heavy migration is occurring. After selecting a permit to apply for, hunters will be given the opportunity to also apply for a roster hunt. Hunters applying for a roster position will be assigned a random number and then placed into numerical order. When an excess amount of bison have left Yellowstone National Park, Montana FWP will begin calling hunters from the roster, starting with the number one position and so forth for each hunter’s opportunity.

During periods of the bison hunt, there may also be state tribal members taking part in a treaty hunt. These tribal members can, at times, hunt in areas otherwise closed to permit holders and there is no quota cap for tribal members. The quotas set forth by Montana FWP do not include any animals taken by state tribal members though bison taken during treaty hunts can dictate closures and possible sanctions imposed on permit holder hunts.

Current bison herd condition

Bison herds continue to do very well in this area with officials within Yellowstone conducting roundups yearly to reduce animal numbers. Brucellosis continues to be a growing concern and has further created a rift between local ranchers and conservation efforts outside of the park. Brucellosis among bison is thought to infect over 50% of the population in the park although there has never been a recorded case where the disease was spread to domestic cattle from bison.

Montana bison hunt district breakdown

With three hunt options for residents and two for nonresidents, hunters will not find any overlooked or hidden gem areas. Instead, hunters need to simply hope the random lottery system works in their favor and that their name is pulled out of the hat first.

Montana bison hunt breakdown

Hunt # Permit quota Total
applications
Resident
odds
Nonresidents
odds
385-20 40 5,896 0.68% 0.63%
385-21 5 628 0.8% --
395-20 40 4,125 1% 0.43%

Managing points and expectations

Which district do I apply for?

With Montana utilizing a strict lottery system for bison, your odds of drawing a tag will never get better; however, they will also never get worse. The best strategy here is to simply pick a district and begin applying. The odds are long for both residents and nonresidents alike, but with the current drawing system, you could draw a tag at any time.

Find your resident bison draw odds here

Find your nonresident bison draw odds here

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