Montana's point system breakdown
Montana has long been a destination state for all western hunters. Great hunting can be found here along with miles of public land and decent trophy potential for nearly all of the hunting districts for most species. Even with all of these great perks, some hunters still shy away from the Treasure state due to its difficult to navigate regulations and rules.
In the following article, we are going to discuss the number one question we get every application season - What is the difference between preference and bonus points in Montana?
Montana point fees
Montana preference and bonus point breakdown
|Point type||Resident||Nonresident||Points only purchase|
(big game combo, elk combo, deer combo)
|NA||$100||July 1 to December 31|
(deer, elk, antelope)
|$15*||$25*||July 1 to September 30|
(moose, sheep, goat)
|$15*||$75*||July 1 to September 30|
* These are the bonus point fees if you just purchase the points during the point-only period.
WHAT IS A PREFERENCE POINT AND HOW DO THEY WORK IN MONTANA?
In Montana, preference points are used solely for the Nonresident Big Game Combo, Nonresident Elk Combo, or the Nonresident Deer Combo. The hunts that the combination licenses are valid for are the general hunt districts. These points are not available to residents. Applicants can accrue up to one preference point per year. The only exception to this is nonresidents hunting with a Montana licensed outfitter applying for combination licenses may elect to purchase an additional outfitter preference point at the time of application.
Preference points are good for any of the combo types and are not species-specific.
What are combination licenses in Montana?
- Elk combination license: General elk, conservation license, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), and season fishing license. (Also: base hunting, AISPP required when applying)
- Deer combination license: General deer, conservation, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), and season fishing license. (Also: base hunting, AISPP required when applying)
- Big game combination license: General deer, general elk, conservation license, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), and season fishing license. (Also: base hunting, AISPP required when applying)
As of 2022, preference points are now $100 each and applicants must apply every other year or the state will zero any accumulated preference points. No one may hold more than 3 preference points.
Montana does offer a unique perk to nonresidents that allows them to actually purchase a point with their combination license application to be used in that current year's draw. In essence, you can apply with at least one point every year in Montana. With the combination licenses, 75% of the tags are awarded to applicants with the most points while the remaining 25% are randomly drawn among the applicants who have zero points.
Note: if you didn't apply in the main draw, you can purchase a nonresident preference point for Montana from July 1 through December 31.
Applying as a party with preference points
Up to five applicants may apply as a party. Montana uses an average of the number of preference points accumulated by those applicants to determine the party's preference points and they consider any fraction that results from the calculation of an average when determining that priority. Example: if three people are applying with 5 total points, this party would go into the draw at 1.6 points.
WHAT IS A BONUS POINT AND HOW DO THEY WORK IN MONTANA?
Bonus points are used to draw limited-entry permits (special permits) and B-licenses in Montana. Those species you can accrue bonus points for in Montana are: deer, elk, antelope, sheep, moose and mountain goat.
For deer and elk, the special permits are used with a general hunting license (you need to draw a general combo license, to essentially be put into the draw for a special permit). A special permit does not allow you to take a second deer or elk. Every year that you are unsuccessful in the drawing, and you elect to participate in the bonus point system, you will be awarded a point.
Hunters who receive a deer permit valid for taking an antlered buck mule deer (with their general deer license) are restricted to taking an antlered buck mule deer only in the district or portion of district specified on the permit. They may not hunt antlered buck mule deer anywhere else in Montana even if the General Season or Archery Only Season is open to mule deer buck hunting with a general deer license. This applies to all deer permit areas, whether limited or UNL, for antlered buck mule deer.
Permits for either-sex elk or brow-tined bull-antlerless elk will limit the holder to hunting for antlered elk within only the designated HD for the period identified on the permit.
Applicants can accrue up to one bonus point per year either at the time of application OR between July 1 and September 30. For example: if you submit an application for an elk permit on April 1, you may also purchase a bonus point at that time. If you do not choose to purchase a bonus point at that time, you may not purchase one from July - September. You may, however, purchase a bonus point for a different species between July 1 and September 30.
During the drawing, bonus points are squared giving the applicants more names in the hat. An applicant with 10 bonus points, for example, would enter the draw with 100 entries. With Montana’s bonus point system tags are drawn at random with the squared bonus points. This system tends to reward long-term applicants but not in a predictable manner like with a preference point system. But, because of this, any tag can be drawn at any point level and at any time.
Note: Any accumulated bonus points will not expire.
Applying as a party with bonus points
The maximum number of applicants within a group is five for deer, elk and antelope. When processing a party permit, the state will consider the average number of points between all of the party members and then round to the nearest whole number for a final party permit total. For example, a party with an average of 2.33 points would enter the draw at two points while a party with 2.66 points would enter at three.
Bonus point options in Montana
Before purchasing bonus points in Montana it is important to understand all of the point options.
Montana bonus point breakdown
|Species used for|
|Deer||Mule deer, whitetail deer|
|Deer B||Antlerless mule deer, antlerless whitetail deer|
|Elk B||Antlerless elk|
|Antelope B||Doe antelope|
|Antelope 900-20||Antelope - Archery only 900-20 tag|
|Rocky mountain bighorn sheep,|
Rocky mountain bighorn sheep ewe
|Rocky mountain goat||Rocky mountain goat,|
Rocky mountain goat nanny
|Moose||Moose, antlerless moose|
Example of why bonus and preference points are important
If you are looking to draw a special permit for a certain hunt district and let's say you have 7 bonus points, but the year prior you drew a nonresident big game combination license and burned your preference points because you wanted to hunt elk deer on the general hunt.
So now is the year you really want to burn your bonus points, so you apply for a special permit hunt district where you should draw since most applicants are drawing at 4 points. Well... now that you have zero preference points, you got unlucky in the random side of the draw for the nonresident combination license, and so because you didn't draw the nonresident combination license, you are automatically ineligible to draw a special permit hunt. This is why bonus points AND preference points are needed to draw a special permit hunt. This is why this is something to consider when you apply.