What are the differences of bonus and preference points in Montana?

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Jump to: Point Fees Preference Points Bonus Points

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 typeResidentNonresidentPoints only
purchase deadline

Preference point
(big game combo, elk combo, deer combo)



July 1 to Dec. 31

Bonus point
(deer, elk, antelope)



July 1 to Sept.30

Bonus point
(moose, sheep, goat)



July 1 to Sept. 30

* These are the bonus point fees if you just purchase the points during the point-only period.


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 a nonresident hunting with a Montana licensed outfitter who applies for combination licenses can elect to purchase an additional outfitter preference point at the time of application.

Note: you can easily see all your general hunt options in Montana using Filtering 2.0.

Preference points are good for any of the combo types and are not species specific.


  • Elk combination license: General elk, conservation license, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey) and season fishing license. (Also: base hunting, aquatic invasive species prevention pass (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)

Preference points are $100 and applicants must apply every year or the state will zero any accumulated preference points. For example, if you earn or purchase a point in 2023, but do not apply in 2024, your points will be removed. No one may hold more than three preference points at any given time.

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. See your Montana nonresident draw odds here.

Note: if you didn't apply in the main draw, you can purchase a nonresident preference point for Montana from July 1 through Dec. 31.


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 five total points, this party would go into the draw at 1.6 points.


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, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat, antlerless deer, antlerless elk and doe antelope.

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.

Applicants can accrue up to one bonus point per year either at the time of application OR between July 1 and Sept. 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 to September. You may, however, purchase a bonus point for a different species between July 1 and Sept. 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. However, because of this, any tag can be drawn at any point level and at any time.

Note: Any accumulated bonus points will NOT expire.


The maximum number of applicants within a group is five for deer, elk and antelope. When processing a party permit with bonus points, 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

Type of pointSpecies applicable for


Mule deer, whitetail deer

Deer B

Antlerless mule deer,
antlerless whitetail deer



Elk B

Antlerless elk



Antelope 900-20

(Archery only 900-20 tag)

Antelope B

Doe antelope

Rocky Mountain

bighorn sheep

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep,
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ewe

Rocky Mountain goat

Rocky Mountain goat,
Rocky Mountain goat nanny


Moose, antlerless moose


Say you are looking to draw a special permit for a certain hunt district. You have seven bonus points, but the year before you drew a nonresident big game combination license and burned your preference points because you wanted to hunt elk deer on the general hunt.

You decide that this 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 four points. Except now that you have zero preference points, you are unlucky in the random side of the draw for the nonresident combination license and 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.

More research information for Montana

In addion, be sure to check out our 2023 Montana elk and mule deer application strategy article. It is jam packed with all the information you need to know to better prepare your 2023 hunting application.

2023 Montana elk app strategy 2023 Montana mule deer app strategy


Insider makes it easy to find tag opportunities by state, species, probability of draw odds success, and much more! Whether you have 0 points, max points, or any number of points for certain states, Insider gives you the information you need to plan a successful hunt. In addition to our research tools, all Insiders have access to GOHUNT Maps on the web and mobile app. It's the only complete and full package set of tools to help you find the hunt you want this year or to help you plan for hunts in the future.

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