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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2016: Montana Deer and Elk

 

Large antlered bull elk
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Montana's deer and elk application overview

Jump to: New for 2016 State Information Draw System Points System Mule Deer Breakdown Whitetail Deer Breakdown Deer Bonus Points Elk Breakdown Elk Bonus Points

With ample amounts of public land, generous seasons and easy to obtain tags, Montana can be a great state for anyone looking to cut their teeth on western hunting. While nonresident tag costs are some of the highest in the west, prospective hunters can enjoy a nearly 100% guarantee on drawing their general tags with a large portion of these available as surplus every year and becoming available over-the-counter (OTC). This is a great state to look at as an option “B” if plans fall through with other states. While there are many permit-only areas that produce some of the state's biggest animals, a lot of great hunting can still be found on general OTC hunting districts which will provide many options. Archery hunters will enjoy a six week season and rifle hunters will see a five week season that includes the mule deer rut. With over 30 million acres of accessible public land, 15 designated wilderness areas and 7 million acres of private land, Montana’s Block Management Area (BMA) adventure is a fun option for hunters of any background.

Note: The application for Montana deer and elk permits is March 15 and the application can be completed through the mail or online.



Why Montana for deer and elk

Generous seasons 

Allows the hunting of elk and mule deer during the rut on a general tag.

Easy to draw general tags

The general drawing for the nonresident tags has been 100% guaranteed the past few years and most years will see these tags go to surplus and become available OTC.

Great access to public land

Montana is a great state to look at for hunters interested in hunting public lands.

Great opportunities in OTC Hunting Districts

While the biggest animals will generally be found in limited entry areas, there are some incredible bulls and bucks taken every year in general OTC areas.



New for 2016

•  Mandatory hunting license is now required to purchase. $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.
•  When applying for any archery-only permits, hunters must first possess a bow and arrow license.
•  When applying for any deer permit, residents must first have a deer license; this is already the case for all nonresident applications and resident elk applications.
•  The unlimited elk permit application deadline of March 15 will be strictly enforced. There will be no sale of unlimited elk permits after March 15.
•  In Region 2, the stipulation that hunters holding an elk B license for a given hunting district may not take a bull in said district is eliminated.
•  HD 217 was created in the Rock Creek drainage and will have permit applications for mule deer and elk. Adjacent HD boundaries will change for accommodation.
•  HD 217 has established an unlimited mule deer buck permit.
•  HD 451 will be added along Sixteen Mile Creek near Ringling. Adjacent HD boundaries will change for accommodation.
•  HD 302 is now a general season mule deer district.
•  Shoulder seasons will be added across the state, some of which will see rifle hunters during the archery-only season.

2016 Montana approved elk shoulder seasons

Region

Hunting
District

License Type

Season
Dates

1 HD 101, 109 B license by
drawing only
Aug 15 - Oct 16
2 HD 210 B license by
drawing only
Aug 15 - Jan 01
2 HD 212 and 213 B license by
drawing only
Dec 01 - Feb 15
2 HD 215 OTC B license Aug 15 - Feb 15
2 HD 217 OTC B license,
B license
by drawing only
& general elk license
Aug 15 - Feb 15*
2 HD 290 and 298 OTC B license Aug 15 - Feb 15
2 HD 291 B license by
drawing only
Aug 15 - Feb 15
2 HD 292 B license by
drawing only
Aug 15 - Oct 21
3 HD 312, 390, 393 OTC B license Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Nov 28 - Jan 01
3 HD 390, 393 General elk license Nov 28 - Jan 01
4 HD 411, 412 B license by
drawing only
& general elk license
Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Nov 28 - Jan 15*
4 HD 421 B license by
drawing only
Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Jan 01 - Feb 15
4 HD 422, 423 B license by
drawing only
Jan 01 - Feb 15
4 HD 445, 446,
449, 451, 452
B license by
drawing only
& general elk license
Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Oct 17 - 21,
Nov 28 - Feb 15
5 All Region 5 except
500, 511, 530
B license by
drawing only
& general elk license
Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Oct 17 - Oct 21,
Nov 28 - Jan 01*
5 HD 511, 530 B license by
drawing only
& general elk license
Aug 15 - Sep 02,
Oct 17 - Oct 21,
​Nov 28 - Jan 15*
6 HD 680, 690 B license by
drawing only
Dec 15 - 31
6 HD 620, 621, 622,
630, 631, 632
B license by
drawing only
Dec 15 - 31

* Some licenses are not valid in all hunting district portions or for all shoulder season dates as described. See individual hunting regulations.

Mule deer permit quota changes

•  HD 250 decreased from 50 permits to 25.
•  HD 261 increased from 25 permits to 40.
•  HD 270 increased from 45 permits to 60.

Elk permit quota changes

•  HD 250 increased from 25 permits to 35.
•  HD 313 decreased from unlimited permits to only 50.
•  HD 340 is now a permit area for elk with a quota of 250.
•  HD 401 increased from 30 permits to 35.
•  Permit 799-20 valid in HDs 702, 704, 705 increased from 175 permits to 225.



State information

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

Montana State Profile Montana Mule Deer Profile Montana Whitetail Deer Profile Montana Elk Profile

Montana's deer season is incredibly generous and some areas even allow hunters to search out deer from September 3 through January 15 on a general tag! Montana features a five week any legal weapons season, which allows both whitetail and mule deer to be hunted throughout the entire cycle of the rut. The elk seasons are very generous for hunters holding either the general license or a permit. Starting Sept. 3, 2016, hunters will be able to head out in search of elk and hunt them with archery gear through the rut until Oct. 16. After that, the any weapons season runs from Oct. 22 through Nov. 27.

2016 Montana deer and elk season dates

Season

Start and end date

Archery September 3 to October 16
Two-Day Youth Hunt
(deer only)
October 20 and October 21
General October 22 to November 27

Backcountry (HD’s 150, 151, 280, 316*)

Archery September 3 to September 14
General September 15 to November 27

*No archery season in HD 316

Important dates and information

•  The deadline to apply for the 2016 Montana Deer and Elk permits is March 15, 2016 by midnight MST. Apply online here.
•  An 80% refund can be issued on a nonresident license if requested before August 1, 2016.
•  A 50% refund can be issued on a nonresident license if requested after August 1, 2016.
•  Bonus points will be squared. For instance, a person holding five bonus points for the the current drawing will receive 25 chances.
•  There is no maximum amount of bonus points that can be held by an individual in Montana.
•  Unsuccessful drawing of a permit will result in the accumulation of a new bonus point if the applicant chose to pay the bonus point fee at the time of application.
•  Random draw on all permits will not be weighted towards any applicants based on the amount of points currently held.
•  Bonus points are only useable on first choice drawings only.
•  Failure to participate in the bonus point program for more than two consecutive years will result in the forfeiting of all points.
•  Successful drawing of a tag will also forfeit all accumulated points (first choice only).
•  Up to 10% of Montana’s allotted permits will be awarded to nonresident applicants.

Other important information to note

It is important for hunters to understand that any deer or elk permit obtained does not allow the taking of a second animal; rather, it grants the ability to hunt bucks and bulls with the use of your general tag in a restricted hunting district. In Montana, hunters who possess a mule deer permit are not allowed to hunt mule deer in any other hunting district in the state regardless of the other hunting districts being limited entry or general.

The impact of wolves and other predators
 

Wyatt O'day with his Montana wolf
Wyatt O'day with his 2015 Montana wolf. Read the full story here.

Wolves are easily the most debatable subject amongst the western hunting community, drawing the attention of hunters across the state. But the question remains: are they still a huge problem? While wolves are still running around the hills the elk hunting has been getting better. Speculation is buzzing in several directions praising this general trend on the “fear of man,” being instilled in the wolves to the extreme end of the spectrum of wolves simply being managed to lower population levels than before. Wolf numbers are still strong in historical areas centered around Yellowstone National Park yet general interactions and activity of wolves has diminished greatly in many other areas. With the nomadic nature of wolves, elk hunters should have several different areas, or districts, to hunt in the case wolf activity is found in your “spot.” While the elk won’t totally move out of the area the hunting can definitely become tough. As of Feb. 25, 2016, 202 wolves have been taken during the 2015-16 General and Trapping season. An additional three wolves were taken under Senate Bill 200 that allows 100 wolves that potentially threaten livestock, domestic dogs or human safety to be taken by landowners. A total of 207 wolves were taken during the 2014-15 season.

While not as openly broadcasted or spoken of as the damage to elk herds, wolves have also certainly taken their toll on mule deer herds. Along with that, black bear and mountain lion numbers have been on a very steady rise. A recent survey conducted by MFWP on mountain lions in the Bitterroot Valley yielded counts of more than double of what biologist predicted for the area.

Grizzly bears

It is important to note that in some areas of the state, high densities of grizzlies will be found. Grizzly encounters with hikers and hunters has been on the rise. Last season, there were three grizzly encounters with hunters that resulted in maulings or the bear being put down. Currently, the U.S. Fish Wildlife and Service is debating on whether or not to open a grizzly season in the areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park. This area would include Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Whenever hunters are going to be hunting in areas where an encounter is possible it is highly recommended that bear spray or a side arm be carried and accessible.

Montana estimated grizzly bear range
 

Montana grizzly bear range

Graphic provided by Montana State Fieldguide


The draw system

Understanding the draw

Hunters should fully understand a few things about Montana’s drawing process prior to applying for the desired tags and permits. A complete breakdown of the drawing process, dates and fees can be found in our Montana State Profile.

What do I get with my general deer, elk, or big game combo?

Hunters who choose not to participate in the permit drawing selection will receive a general tag for the species that they applied for. This general tag can be used anywhere in the state as long as the specific hunting district they wish to hunt is not restricted to permit use only. Of the 162 huntable districts in Montana 38 require a permit to hunt mule deer and 45 require a permit to hunt bull elk. By utilizing our Filtering 2.0 software, hunters can identify several great OTC hunting districts that can produce some outstanding bucks and bulls every year.

What does drawing a permit grant me?

Hunters who draw a special permit will have the ability to hunt districts that are otherwise off limits to anyone else who has not drawn the specific permit. These districts generally hold some of the state's biggest animals and best trophies. It is important for nonresident hunters who wish to apply for permits to know that Montana only grants up to 10% of the allotted tags to nonresident hunters. In some cases, it’s possible for none of the tags in a given district to be awarded to a nonresident if none were ever drawn before the tag allocation was met.

2nd and 3rd choice

In most cases, when applying for permits, you will have the option to select a second or third choice permit. Simply, if there are leftover tags in your second choice district after the drawings, then you will be awarded one of those. If that is full and a spot is available in your third choice district, then you will draw that. Drawing either your second or third choice will not use up your bonus points. Make sure that you understand the regulations because some districts that are an unlimited draw require that your first choice be the unlimited district. If applying for such an area, hunters should choose not to participate in the bonus point system as it will be wasted money and time.

Super Tag

The Super Tag is a unique opportunity offered by Montana. Essentially, it is a lottery drawing for eight different species (moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, antelope, elk, deer, bison, and mountain lion) that can be used in any hunting district of the state regardless of it being a general or limited entry area. Only one tag per species is drawn each year. These are very similar to Governor's tags, which are found throughout the West, but are much, much cheaper. Hunters can purchase as many “lottery tickets” in the Super Tag drawing as they wish for $5 each. These are non refundable and must be purchased by July 2, 2016. If hunters draw a Super Tag in the same year that they have drawn a permit, then they must forfeit the permit back to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) who will then issue a full refund and reinstate any bonus points the individual possessed prior to the drawing.

Landowner and Landowner sponsor license

Another great opportunity Montana offers is the availability of landowner tags and landowner sponsored tags. With landowner tags, 15% of the permits for a given district will be set aside specifically for landowners, resident or nonresident, in that given district who meet the requirements. For deer, landowners must own, or be contracted to purchase, 160 acres that is primarily used for agriculture or 640 acres if applying for elk. Landowners who are not successful in drawing the 15% of tags will then be thrown into the regular pool. Landowners who own at least 640 acres are also able to sponsor up to two nonresident hunters who possess the deer combination license. 2,000 tags are set aside for the sponsor program, which is a guaranteed draw, but the hunter may only hunt on the sponsored private land.

Youth combination license

Any youth between the ages of 12 and 17 can be sponsored by any grandparent, parent, or sibling over the age of 18, who will, in turn, be allowed to purchase their deer, elk or big game combo license at a much lower rate. The youth hunter must first possess a conservation license before purchasing the combo license.

Nonresident come home to hunt

The Come Home to Hunt program is a fairly new concept for Montana and allows for 500 big game combo and 500 deer combo tags to be set aside for those participating in the program. To be eligible, the applicant must have either completed hunter’s education in the state of Montana or must have possessed a Montana hunting license in the past and be sponsored by a current Montana resident family member.

Unlocking Montana’s system

Information on Montana's draw system can be found on our Montana state profile.



The points system

Montana runs a bonus point system which squares each applicant's points, meaning a person holding four points now has 16 chances, five points has 25 chances, etc. For each year an applicant is unsuccessful, they will be awarded an additional bonus point as long as they chose to participate in the bonus point program. Once a permit has successfully been drawn the applicant surrenders all of their accumulated bonus points for that species.

The bonus point race

2016 max bonus points for deer: 13

2016 max bonus points for elk: 13



Montana's mule deer breakdown

Robby Farnes giant archery 192 inch typical Montana mule deer

Robby Farnes' giant 192" P&Y Official archery mule deer taken in 2015.

Current mule deer herd condition

2015 was a great year for Montana deer with thriving populations after a string of easy winters and plenty of vegetation for horn growth this past spring. This year looks like it should provide the same with an easy winter so far, and predictions of another good year for vegetation growth. Whitetail herds are rebounding after a recent outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Bluetongue in the north central and west central portions of the state. While mule deer populations may be rebounding, the trophy potential in a few districts is beginning to slip fairly quickly. The blame for this has taken many avenues but it’s generally accepted as a result from predation, over harvest and mismanagement. On the other hand, a few districts did have an absolutely banner year. The statewide mule deer 4 point or better harvest saw the largest increase in three years and is on the upward trend since 2011.

Montana statewide mule deer 4 point or better harvest

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)

EHD is a disease transmitted by midges and gnats as they bite deer and elk in the spring and summer months. Through their bite, the animals will develop a nearly always fatal infection. As the infection spreads, mass hemorrhaging and fever will occur that will eventually lead to the animals seeking out water to submerse themselves in. Nearly all of the deer that die from this disease are found in or near a body of water.

While Montana is generally below the radar for anyone looking for trophy quality mule deer, there is still some great hunting for someone not looking to play the points game and just wants to hunt a general district. A few giants will be pulled off general districts every year, but by far and large, the biggest animals will consistently come from permit districts. With Montana’s tag allocation of 10% or less going to nonresident applicants, many will be looking to spend their points and money elsewhere while saving the state’s general tags for a backup. General populations throughout the state have been on a decline for the last 10 years. Yet, herds have begin to stabilize although trophy potential has suffered. The biggest deer continue to come out of the Bitterroot Valley, though the venerable HD 270 has been slipping in recent years and the average trophy quality has dropped greatly.

Montana statewide mule deer harvest

The goHUNT hit list hunting districts for Montana mule deer
 

Top hunting districts to consider for 160” or better mule deer
(not in order of quality)

Hunting District Trophy
Potential
Percentage 4pt
or better
Permit or
general HD
HD 261 180"+ 92% Permit only
HD 262 180"+ NA Permit only
HD 270 180"+ 85% Permit only
HD 291 170"+ 71% Permit only
HD 300 170"+ 61% Permit only
HD 410 170"+ 63% General
HD 442 170"+ 61% General
HD 445 170"+ 55% General
HD 701 170"+ 67% General
HD 702 170"+ 72% General
HD 704 170"+ 71% General
HD 705 170"+ 67% General

 


 

How to uncover hidden gem deer hunting districts
 

Jake Ingram with a great Montana mule deer buck
Jake Ingram with his 2015 Montana mule deer. Jake is the owner of Scapegoat Wilderness Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

The scouting and research game has been significantly simplified with our Filtering 2.0 system. With this, hunters can look at every district in the state and find out exactly which districts meet their criteria. Once likely hunting districts have been located you can visit their respective district profiles to learn more about the immediate area and what tools you will need to be successful. Also check out our state profile to stay current with the status of Montana’s wildlife.

To get started with Filtering 2.0

•  Select state.
•  Select species.
•  Adjust the Trophy Slider to your desired size (e.g. 170”+).
•  Click whether you are a resident or nonresident and indicate how many points you currently possess.
•  Select your minimum percentage of odds for drawing the tag. This can be very good for weeding out districts with unlimited (100%) tags.
•  Select which season(s) you are wishing to hunt. Have other hunts going on throughout the fall? You can also set your date parameters and Filtering 2.0 will automatically find what's in season that time of the year.
•  Choose what harvest percentages you would like to see in the districts.
•  Lastly, click on any of the remaining districts to read in depth profiles containing valuable information.

For instance, let’s say you are a nonresident hunter, have minimal bonus points of two, want to hunt bucks with the trophy potential of 160”+ and want an area with a tag drawing rate of 40% or higher and a harvest success rate of 50% or higher. Sounds like a pipe dream, right? Most people would also agree, until they watch Filtering 2.0 go to work. Using those parameters, you will be able to narrow the search down to HD 530, which gives a 48% chance of drawing as a nonresident with two points and a harvest success rate of 53% with 69% of those deer being comprised of bucks with 4 points or more. Getting familiar with this software will allow hunters to see the whole picture all at once and reduce the risk of burning points on a district that may not live up to your expectations.

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for typical mule deer

County

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found within county

Ravalli 3 204, 240, 250, 261, 270
Dawson 1 651, 703
Pondera 1 400, 404, 406, 441
Rosebud 1 701, 702, 704
Sheridan 1 640, 641
Toole 1 400, 401, 403, 406

 

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for nontypical mule deer

County

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found within county

Park 1 301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580
Powder 1 704, 705
Sheridan 1 640, 641
 
 

Montana’s OTC general buck districts, what are they all about?
 

Kirk Russell with his 2015 Montana general season mule deer
Kirk Russell with his 2015 Montana general season mule deer.

Deer hunters have a great range of opportunity with general season tags. Some of the biggest bucks in Montana have been harvested from the general hunting districts in both the western and eastern portion of the state.



Montana's whitetail deer breakdown
 

Matt Hagel 2015 Montana whitetail buck
Matt Hagel's 2015 Montana whitetail buck.

Current whitetail deer herd condition

The whitetail herd in Montana is doing great after a few recent years of EHD breakouts that killed thousands of deer. There are great numbers of deer found throughout the state along with good trophy potentials. Whitetail can be hunted across the state on your general tag and will be found in every district. North central and west central Montana is continually producing some of the largest deer, but, every once in awhile, a true giant of a mountain buck will be pulled out the jungles of northwest Montana. These areas will typically see very low success odds due largely in part to the terrain, but the trophy potential is almost uncapped.

Montana statewide whitetail deer 4 point or better harvest

Trending areas

With the complete lack of disease, moderately easy winters lately and few hunters Region 1 (HDs 100 to 170) is a great place for someone actively seeking out a giant whitetail. This area is not for the faint of heart as deer populations are lower than in other regions in the state and the terrain is almost a jungle. Deer sightings will be low yet the trophy potential will be extremely high. Glassing will be near impossible in Region 1 with the exception of clear cuts and most hunters will find success by still hunting or calling. Hunters wishing to look over more deer will enjoy hunting Region 3 (HDs 300 to 393). With more open country conducive to glassing, hunters will have the opportunity to look at deer from long range with the hopes of locating the buck of their dreams and then, stalking in. At any rate, even if looking for mule deer, hunters should keep an eye out for whitetail as great deer can be found throughout the state.

Montana statewide whitetail deer harvest

Top hunting districts to consider for 140” or better whitetail deer
(not in order of quality)

Hunting District Trophy
Potential
Percentage 4pt
or better
Permit or
general HD
HD 132 150"+ 67% General
HD 170 150"+ 63% General
HD 104 140"+ 58% General
HD 121 140"+ 56% General
HD 123 140"+ 59% General
HD 124 140"+ 56% General
HD 130 140"+ 64% General
HD 150 140"+ 42% General
HD 200 140"+ 57% General
HD 201 140"+ 49% General


* 22 other HDs with a 140" plus trophy potential.

Five year Boone & Crockett entry trends for Montana whitetail deer

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for typical whitetail deer

County

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found within county

Lake 1 120, 130, 132
Toole 1 400401403406

 

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for nontypical whitetail deer

County

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found within county

Powell 1 150, 212, 213, 215, 280, 281, 282, 290, 291, 292, 293, 298

 


 

Managing deer bonus points and expectations
 

Youth hunter with a massive Montana mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
Youth hunter with a massive Montana mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Before applying for Montana is it very important for hunters to determine what they want. Some may want the trophy of a lifetime while others may want the adventure of a lifetime; some may want both. With Montana’s draw system only offering an 80% refund on your application, it may be necessary to prioritize your hunts in other states and put one or the other on hold so both can be hunted to their full potential. It is important to note that for two years consecutively it is not necessary to build or use Montana points. Yet, if no activity has been made with your points after three years, then they are automatically forfeited.

To start your planning, you should use our Filtering 2.0 software. By manipulating the sliders to choose your desired minimum trophy potential and harvest odds you will be presented with a list of remaining districts that will meet your criteria. This can also be a great way to discover areas not on your radar that may take far less points to draw than your current Hunting District choice. Next, by visiting the Draw Odds page, it will be easy to decide which Hunting Districts to start with and approximately how many points it will take to draw them. It is important to note that bonus points simply mean more names in the hat and a higher point count does not directly relate to drawing a tag, though the squaring of points does help.

Another topic that needs some attention is whether or not to hire an outfitter. When going for the best trophy districts in the state it’s not uncommon for a nonresident applicant to spend nearly $1,500 and 10 years worth of effort in drawing these tags and most hunters will never draw another. If you're unsure about using a guide, check out a drop camp, which can be another great option.

Cost for buying a single nonresident deer point in Montana

License or permit

Cost

Base Hunting License $15
Deer Combination License $597
Deer Permit $5
Deer Bonus Point $20
Total $637
After 80% refund $127.40

A single deer point will cost you $127.40 if you are not wanting to hunt the state on your general tag.

For hunters looking to hunt some of the trophy districts in the state it will be necessary to accumulate points for 10 or more years, and it will be important, while point building, to apply in the hardest areas to draw in the state to avoid using points on an unwanted district.

Find your draw odds

MT resident deer bonus points going into the 2016 draw
MT nonresident deer bonus points going into the 2016 draw

I have 0 deer bonus points. What can I expect?

Mule deer

When you first start building points for Montana it is important to know what your long term goal will be. Do you want to build enough points to go after the top tier deer in the state or do you want to sacrifice a little antler and go for districts that can be drawn more often and still provide a great hunt? Be aware that with MFWP only delegates up to 10% of the state's allocated tags for nonresident tag holders.

With Montana’s licenses not selling out the past few years, it is safe to say that nonresidents will still draw a general deer license. A general license will allow you to hunt the majority (77%) of the state.

If you want to go after the biggest and the best, then your best plan of attack is to put in for the district you really want to hunt. With Montana’s lottery drawing there is always a small chance that you could draw the tag early on. For anyone who decides on this route, please note that some unlimited districts (100% draw) can be drawn as your second choice without sacrificing points even though the hunter will not be able to hunt any other district in the state for mule deer. 

If you are interested in building points for a few years before cashing them in, start throwing them on the best hunts with the lowest odds or simply apply consistently for the district that you want. By only applying for the district you're interested in, though, for the next few years, you are limiting yourself to a chance in that district only. By throwing your name into the pool of the best hunts in the state you will not only almost always guarantee yourself a point but you might actually draw one of those hunts! A great plan at this point also would be to establish a good unlimited permit area or general area to be used as a contingency in the likely factor that you do not draw your first choice permit. Check out HD 410, HD 442, HD 445, HD 701, HD 702, HD 704 and HD 705 for some good hunting on a general tag.

Whitetail

Montana only has one permit area for whitetail bucks. HD 455 is open for hunting on a general deer license during archery season, but you must apply for the permit to hunt for whitetails in the rifle season. Draw odds are very slim for this district. With zero points nonresidents have a 0.12% chance to draw this permit.

What can I do with 3 or 4 deer bonus points?

Mule deer

When you have three to four points your list of available districts becomes much smaller as a nonresident, yet the quality of deer gets much higher. As a nonresident applicant you want to focus your attention on HD 250 or HD 530. HD 250 is one of the greatest success stories in western Montana. After massive predator influence and huge fires in a lot of the Hunting Districts the animal population was decimated. Through careful planning mule deer have reached a trophy potential of 160” plus in just a handful of years with a 200” plus being taken in the 2015 season. HD 530 is on a current downward trend as far as population is concerned, but some big bucks can still be found.

Whitetail

Again, Montana only has one permit area for whitetail bucks, HD 455. With three to four points nonresidents are barely breaking over 2% chance to draw this permit.

What can I expect with 9 or 10 deer bonus points?

Mule deer

Now, you are in the chips. With nine or 10 points you are looking at the districts consistently producing the best bucks of the state: HD 261 and HD 270. While your odds are still low even for 10 points, 4% or less, this is your best bet for killing a 200” Montana mule deer. HD 261 has been on an incredible run lately with four bucks over 190” being taken in the 2015 season and huge bucks taken every year. HD 270, while still producing giant deer, is nowhere near where it was four to five years ago. The age class has dropped significantly and prominent 2 and 3 point genes are making a stance. Hunters will likely be settling on deer in the mid 180s, though some giants still roam the district. In 2015, 6,354 people applied for the 45 deer permits in HD 270, and this was an increase of 714 applicants from the year before. Permits numbers increased to 60 permits for HD 270 in 2016... but don't expect draw odds to get any better. We will continue to see draw odds decreasing for this district and the only thing an increase in 15 permits will do is bring more applicants and money to the state of Montana. Be sure to check your draw odds before you apply.

Whitetail

Again, Montana only has one permit area for whitetail bucks, HD 455. At 10 points nonresidents are still a long ways from confidently drawing this permit and only have a 11% draw odds.



Montana's elk breakdown
 

Dave Barnett Montana archery bull elk
Dave Barnett's 2015 Montana archery bull elk.

Current elk herd condition

Montana’s elk population, while on a historic low, has been on a pretty steady rise in recent years and hunting has been increasing greatly in many areas. With consecutive mild winters and great spring time growth, great bulls taken over during the last few years. Early predictions are indicating a mild finish to this winter and another wet spring, 2016 should be a great year for antler growth. The statewide elk 6 point or better harvest saw a huge increase and is on the upward trend after dropping from 2012/2013.

Montana statewide elk harvest

The goHUNT hit list hunting districts for Montana elk

Top hunting districts to consider for 340” or better elk
(not in order of quality)

Hunting District Trophy
Potential
Percentage 6pt
or better
Permit or
general HD
HD 380 370"+ 82% Permit
HD 310 360"+ 63% Permit
HD 690 360"+ 86% Permit
HD 410 350"+ 84% Permit
HD 447 350"+ 74% Permit
HD 212 340"+ 31% Permit
HD 417 340"+ 90% Permit
HD 442 340"+ 60% General
HD 590 340"+ 68% Permit
HD 621 340"+ 81% Permit
HD 622 340"+ 83% Permit
HD 631 340"+ 78% Permit
HD 632 340"+ 92% Permit
HD 700 340"+ 72% Permit
HD 704 340"+ 83% Permit
HD 705 340"+ 94% Permit


How to uncover hidden gem elk districts

The scouting and research game has been significantly simplified with our Filtering 2.0 system. With this, hunters can look at every district in the state and find out exactly which districts meet their criteria. Once hunting districts have been located, visit their respective district profile to learn more about the immediate area and what tools you will need to be successful. Be sure to also check out our state profile to stay current with the status of Montana’s wildlife.

By using Filtering 2.0 hunters will find that Montana has a lot to offer in the way of general hunting districts. While you may be holding out for one of the coveted tags, don’t forget to also explore these OTC districts.

Five year Boone & Crockett entry trends for Montana elk

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for typical elk

County*

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found
within county

Gallatin 5 301, 309, 310, 311, 312, 314, 333, 361, 362, 390, 393
Park 5 301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580
Lewis and Clark 4 150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455
Fergus 2 410, 411, 412, 417, 418, 419, 426, 511, 530
Jefferson 2 311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380

* 7 other counties with two entries.
 

Montana's top B&C producing
counties since 2010 for nontypical elk

County*

No. of
entries

Hunting Districts found
within county

Blaine 1 600, 611, 621, 680, 690
Hill 1 400, 600, 690
Jefferson 1 311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380
Lewis and Clark 1 150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455
Teton 1 404, 406, 441, 442, 444, 450

 

Is there opportunity among Montana elk?
 

Maddy with a great Montana bull elk taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
Maddy with a great Montana bull elk taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Absolutely! Montana is a great state for general season elk hunting. It has one of the best general archery seasons in the entire country, and bowhunters have a full six weeks of hunting. Couple that with a lot of public land, and the majority of the elk coming from the western portion of the state and hunters have a great opportunity to get away from the crowds and be successful. 

Montana’s general areas are perfect for growing older age class bulls. Plus, the majority of the state’s record class bulls have came from general districts. Keep in mind, the western half of the state can be very remote and the mountains are rugged, but with a long season, hunters can have a solid chance at a trophy bull.

The best part about hunting elk in Montana? If you do not tag out in the archery season, you can turn around and hunt for another five weeks with a rifle. Montana is a rarity when it comes to opportunity. 


 

Managing elk bonus points and expectations

For hunters who are looking to draw the top tier hunting districts in the state, a lengthy road lies ahead of them. Expect to accumulate points for 10 to 15 years before expecting to draw, though people do get lucky every year.

Before applying for Montana is it very important for hunters to determine what they want. Some may want the trophy of a lifetime while others may want the adventure of a lifetime; some may want both. With Montana’s draw system only offering an 80% refund on your application, it may be necessary to prioritize your hunts in other states and put one or the other on hold so both can be hunted to their full potential. It is important to note that for two years consecutively it is not necessary to build or use Montana points. Yet, if no activity has been made with your points after three years they will be automatically forfeited.

Cost for buying a single nonresident elk bonus point in Montana

License or permit

Cost

Base Hunting License $15
Elk Combination License $851
Elk Permit $9
Elk Bonus Point $20
Total $895
After 80% refund $179

A single elk point will cost you $179 if you are not wanting to hunt the state on your general tag.

Find your draw odds

MT resident elk bonus points going into the 2016 draw
MT nonresident elk bonus points going into the 2016 draw

I have 0 elk bonus points. What can I expect?

When you first start building points for Montana it is important that you ask yourself what the long term goal will be. Do you want to build enough points to go after the top tier elk in the state or do you want to sacrifice a little antler and go for hunting districts that can be drawn more frequently and still provide a great hunt?

If you are wanting to go after the biggest and the best, then your best plan of attack is to simply put in for the district you ultimately want to hunt. With Montana’s lottery drawing, there is always a small chance that you may draw the tag early on. For those of you who take this route, you should also note that some unlimited districts (100% draw) can be drawn as your second choice without sacrificing points.

If you are interested in building points for a few years before cashing them in, start throwing them on the best hunts with the lowest odds or simply apply consistently for the district that you want. By only applying for the district you're interested in, though, for the next few years, you are limiting yourself to a chance in that district only. By throwing your name into the pool of the best hunts in the state you will not only almost always guarantee yourself a point, but you might actually draw one of those hunts! A great plan at this point would be to establish a good unlimited permit area or general area to be used as a contingency plan in the likely factor that you do not draw your first choice permit.

The odds of drawing any special draw permits at this point in the game are virtually non-existent and hunters should be focusing on either simply building points and cashing in for the refund or hunting the OTC general districts while their points accumulate. There are three HDs (HD 270, HD 310 and HD 313) that a nonresident has 100% draw odds with zero points 

With Montana’s licenses not selling out the past few years, it is safe to say that nonresidents will still draw a Big Game Combination or Elk Combination license for 2016. You can check the odds of drawing a general nonresident elk license here.

If you choose to hunt the general districts, focus your efforts in Region 2, 3 and 4. The Sapphire Range in Region 2 can provide some good hunting though the populations are lower here and the trophy potential of bulls will be smaller. Look to hunt districts 204, 211216 and 261. Region 3 will provide a much higher population of elk and, as a result, hunters in this region should also be very aware of the concentration of grizzlies if hunting the areas around Yellowstone National Park. Look at hunting districts 325, 330, 360, 361 and 362. Region 4 will provide some of the highest harvest rates in the state and some great late season opportunities during the any weapons season; look at districts 411, 416, 421, 422, 423, 424 and 425.

What can I do with 3 or 4 elk bonus points?

Once you have accumulated three to four points, you are sitting at a pretty major crossroad. If you continue to apply for points you can start to seriously consider the fact that you may draw the best district in the state in upcoming years. Conversely, you can cash in your points now for an opportunity to bowhunt the Missouri River Breaks, commonly referred to as “The Breaks.” This area located near Fort Peck Reservoir and the Missour River is a prime destination for elk hunters. The area is known for many things, including lots of elk, lots of mud and huge bulls.

Hunting in The Breaks can be a massive chore in itself from gumbo that will sink your pickup to mosquito hordes of biblical proportions. Yet, hunters will find excellent hunting here with good elk populations, great bulls and generally decent access. The best districts to consider putting your points on for archery include 410, 417, 620, 621, 622, 630 and 631. All of those HDs have draw odds ranging from 89% and up.

If you wish to continue to build points, then continue to hunt the general districts of Region 2, 3 and 4.

What can I expect with 9 or 10 elk bonus points?

Now you're at the top of the heap. With this many points you now have reasonable chance at the two best districts to drop your points into: The Elkhorn Mountains, HD 380, and the Bearpaw Mountains, HD 690. Both of these will offer great rifle and archery hunting with the opportunity for bulls in the 350” plus up to, and exceeding, 400” on occasion. Both districts, in general, have been on a downward trend in the quantity of bulls taken each year yet the quality has remained the same. In HD 690 there are two permits available: one for the archery only season and one for the any weapons season. In HD 380, any hunter may hunt antlerless elk and spikes on the general tag leading to an abundance of pressure from elk hunters that do not possess the permit. This can make the hunting tough at times unless permission can be sought to hunt private land. Archery season, in general, will see less pressure. Draw odds are very slim for HD 380. In 2015, 10,839 people applied for the 120 elk permits in HD 380, and this was an increase of 1,501 applicants from the year before. 

Also, resident and nonresident hunters looking to draw rifle permits should look at HDs 410, 417, 620, 621, 622, 630 and 631. Be sure to check your draw odds before you apply.

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