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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2017: Montana Deer and Elk

Bull elk bugling for Montana elk application strategy article

Montana's deer and elk application overview

Jump to: New for 2017 State Information Draw System Elk Breakdown Deer Breakdown

With nearly 30 million acres of public land and ample amounts of deer and elk it’s no surprise that Montana is a destination high on most hunters wish lists. Deer and elk can be hunted throughout most of the state on general permits with a large number of controlled hunt districts maintaining unlimited quotas and a 100% chance at drawing. Elk can be hunted with archery and rifle equipment on the same tag including archery seasons that span the entirety of the rut. Beyond the generous elk seasons, deer hunters can also hunt mule deer through the rut, which is a trait fairly unique to the state. Montana is a great state for anyone to consider with a variety of hunts suitable for any level of adventure.

Note: The application deadline for Montana deer and elk is March 15, 2017 and can be mailed in or completed online.



Why Montana for elk in 2017

When it comes to elk Montana offers great opportunities for hunters of any background. With a general elk tag, you can hunt both the archery and any legal weapon season and have multiple opportunities to chase bulls through the entirety of the rut, including a few districts that allow early season rifle hunts that begin on Sept. 15. Out of the 164 elk districts found within the state 131 of these can be hunted on the general tag and 26 of the remaining controlled districts feature unlimited quotas and a 100% guarantee to draw. Nearly 80% of the units hold a strong chance of producing bulls with the trophy potential of 300” Boone & Crockett (B&C) or better. Whether you’re trying to harvest the bull of a lifetime or simply looking to fill a tag, Montana has a lot to offer.

Why Montana for deer in 2017

While Montana isn’t known as one of top tier trophy states for mule deer it does offer the unique opportunity to chase bucks during the rut with a rifle and can occasionally produce bucks in the 170”+ range. In some of the top controlled hunt districts hunters have been routinely pulling bucks above 190” with some even eclipsing the 200” benchmark though these areas carry very steep draw odds. With research and careful planning, hunters can enjoy a great hunt with opportunities at mature deer. Whitetail deer are doing great throughout the state with many districts offering opportunities at bucks over the 140” mark. Whitetail deer can be found in good numbers throughout the entire state giving hunters the opportunity to chase them in a variety of terrain.



New for 2017

Montana runs on a two year schedule when it comes to season changes meaning that regulations, quotas, and season dates can only be adjusted every other year. 2016 saw a large number of changes that will remain in effect until the 2018 calendar year. For 2017, hunters can refer to the 2016 regulations when applying for tags and permits.

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 Montana Deer or Elk Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.

Montana State Profile Elk Profile Mule Deer Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0

Important dates and information

  • Applications for deer and elk must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. MST on March 15.
  • Applications can be submitted by mail or online here.
  • An 80% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested by Aug. 1, 2017.
  • A 50% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested after Aug. 1, 2017.
  • Draw results are generally available mid April.
  • Surplus licenses are available for purchase on Aug. 7, 2017.
  • Preference points are available for purchase for nonresidents who did not apply in the general drawing between July 1 and Sept. 30 for a fee of $50.
  • If you're applying for an elk permit that is only valid during the archery only season (410-21, 620-21, 631-21, 632-21, 690-21, 798-21 or 900-20), you must purchase a bow and arrow license before you submit an application. Applications for these districts without the bow and arrow license prerequisite will be removed prior to the drawing.

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 opposite happens when you draw a special draw elk permit. For example: If you draw a special draw elk permit, you can still hunt all of the general districts, plus that special draw district (during the season you drew the tag for).

2017 Montana deer and elk season dates

Season

Start and end date

Archery Sept. 2 to Oct. 15
Two-Day Youth Hunt
(deer only)
Oct. 19 to 20
General Oct. 21 to Nov. 26

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

Archery Sept. 2 to Sep. 14
General Sept. 15 to Nov. 26


Impact of wolves
 

Josh Volinkaty with his 2016 Montana wolf
Josh Volinkaty with his 2016 Montana wolf.

Montana’s wolf issues have somewhat subsided compared to previous years, but the effects of the reintroduction are still being felt on the west side of the state. Elk and mule deer populations are below what has has been historically noted; however, recent Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) maps have indicated that many districts are at or above population objective. With heavy snowfall during the 2016/2017 winter, predation is a legitimate concern, particularly in areas around Yellowstone National Park. Currently 142 wolves have been taken by archery and rifle hunters and 54 have been taken by trappers. MFWP have also taken an additional 45 wolves and seven more have been taken by landowners due to livestock conflicts.

Growing grizzly concerns

Grizzly encounters have been on a steady climb in recent years and several incidents with hikers and hunters were reported over the past year. As populations continue to rise hunter and grizzly encounters are expected to continue and hunters need to be prepared. Bear spray is recommended for anyone hunting the western side of the state and proper precautions need to be taken around campsites to ensure that food is secured properly. More information on bear safety can be found here. Recently, a management plan has been proposed for Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming though a final decision has yet to be made. Details on that proposal is covered in a recent article.



The draw system

Understanding the draw

It is important to understand the draw system before you begin. You can find a complete explanation of the draw process along with important dates and fees in our Montana State Profile. Nonresidents must apply for a combo tag for both deer and elk. Since the implementation of this system in 2010 these have been essentially a guaranteed draw. In previous years, leftover combo tags have been available to purchase; however, last year, these sold out very quickly. If you plan on hunting Montana you should participate in the draw to ensure you have a tag come fall. When applying for the nonresident combo tags you will also be given the chance to apply for special permits for controlled hunts.

Nonresident tag allocation

In Montana, nonresident applicants are awarded up to 10% of a district’s permits. The 10% quota is not a guarantee, though, and it is possible for residents to be drawn for every permit in a hunting district before a nonresident's name is pulled out of the hat.

SuperTag

The SuperTag 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 SuperTag drawing as they wish for $5 each. These are non refundable and must be purchased by July 2, 2017. If hunters draw a Super Tag in the same year that they have drawn a permit, then they must forfeit the permit back to 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 district will be set aside specifically for landowners, resident or nonresident, that meet specific 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 one of the 15% allocated 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.

Nonresident Come Home to Hunt program

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.



Montana's 2017 elk breakdown
 

2016 Montana bull elk taken with Lazy J Bar O Outfitters
2016 Montana bull elk taken with Lazy J Bar O Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Montana is a state managed for opportunity, which makes it a great destination for elk hunters. With research and utilization of tools like Filtering 2.0, hunters can quickly uncover districts that can produce incredible bulls year after year. While the top tier draw districts have been known for producing bulls in the 380” and above range, many hunters are experiencing great hunts in general districts with opportunities at bulls above 300”.

Current elk herd condition

2016 elk population status by hunting district

As a whole, the elk in Montana are doing fairly well as compared to recent years. Predation is still heavy in specific areas though numbers seem to be rebounding thanks to management efforts by hunters and MFWP. Current snowfall levels are trending far above the average causing concern for animals, particularly in the western half of the state. While it’s impossible to predict at the time, winter kill will more than likely cause issues and could play an important role in your application strategy. Hunters interested in chasing elk on the eastern half of the state should expect little to no change in populations or trophy potentials.

Montana elk hunting region breakdown

Montana hunting region map
Montana hunting region map. Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Region 1—Estimated population 4,529

Region 1 found in the northwest corner of the state features some of the roughest and toughest country to hunt. This area experiences heavy snowfall and rain throughout the year leading to incredible amounts of dense ground cover. This vegetation coupled with steep ridges that top out on impassable rocky cliffs plus low game densities means that hunters are in for a difficult hunt. Elk populations in this area have been impacted heavily with the reintroduction of wolves, but are slowly on the mend. Elk will be more scarce in this area but the competition will be lower as a result. Trophy potential is generally lower in this area but that figure can be slightly skewed due to the fact that bulls can easily grow old and die in this country. Winter kill is a major concern for this year and populations may drop even more. While this is a physically demanding area of the state, it will present hunters with unparalleled beauty and a hard earned opportunity at a dark antlered giant.

Region 2—Estimated population 32,344

Region 2, found on the extreme western edge of the state, is home to the famous Bitterroot Valley though hunting success in this area has been down for a few years now. Hunting competition will be high around the city of Missoula, which is located in the heart of the region. In the northern end of the area, hunters will encounter dense forests similar to Region 1 and the terrain and vegetation will transition into more open and sage covered slopes on the southern end. Mature bulls will generally land in the 270” to 320” range though every year bulls over 350” will get taken by lucky hunters. Previous logging and mining activity can be found across much of the region, providing hunters with easy access into the backcountry, but making navigation and avoiding crowds somewhat difficult. Winter kill is still a minor concern in this area though it is not expected to make a huge impact.

Region 3—Estimated population 62,099

The southwest corner of the state holds the highest population of elk and also houses wintering herds that have migrated from Yellowstone National Park. Region 3 routinely produces some of the biggest bulls in the state; however, competition can be incredibly high during the rifle season. This area contains incredible elk habitat with large patches of lodgepole, open meadows and huge skyscraping peaks. More opportunities for backcountry backpack style hunting can be found here for hunters looking to distance themselves from competition. Wolves continue to be a problem in this area during winter months despite hunting and trapping efforts. This area holds some of the highest concentrations of grizzlies; hunters should expect at least some sort of bear encounter. This problem is exemplified in areas immediately surrounding Yellowstone.

Region 4—Estimated population 33,525

Region 4 is found in the north central portion of the state and offers an incredible array of terrain from steep heavily forested slopes to sage-covered coulees in the Missouri River Breaks. Competition will be high in most areas though hunters can still find areas to escape deep into the backcountry. The northern part of the region features large expanses of private land, which can make access difficult. On the western side of the area, hunters can hunt the famed Rocky Mountain Front, which features breathtaking scenery and very rugged country. Grizzlies are also prevalent in this area and proper precaution must be adhered too. Predation on the western side of the region has been reduced again thanks to hunting and trapping efforts. The eastern side of the area tends to produce bigger bulls thanks to less predator activity, better feed opportunities and controlled quota hunting.

Region 5—Estimated population 21,523

This region, located in south central Montana, generally produces smaller bulls compared to the rest of the state though some great bulls do get taken every year. Here, large ranches will hold large populations of the region’s elk herds and competition on the public lands surrounding these areas can be tight. On the southern end of the region, hunters can find access into the Custer-Gallatin Forest, which provides enough space to escape the crowds. Be aware that getting into the backcountry can be very physically demanding and game densities are very low. Nearly every hunting district in this region is currently listed as over objective.

Region 6—Estimated population 4,799

Region 6 is an area that will see large amounts of hunters heading into the famous Missouri River Breaks through some incredible hunting can also be found in the surrounding districts. Private lands dominate much of this area, but sections of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land can provide hunters with great opportunities to slip out in front of herds. Although the draw odds in the premium districts are incredibly steep, some of the biggest bulls are taken in this region every year—some even eclipsing the magical 400” mark. Terrain here is mostly comprised of rolling hills with pockets of heavy timber and sage-covered coulees. Glassing is king in this country and optics will play a pivotal role in success for anyone hunting here. 2017 should be another great year for bulls in this area thanks to heavy amounts of precipitation experienced.

Region 7—Estimated population 4,525

Perhaps one of the most underrated regions in the state, this area can produce some giant bulls. Private land covers most of this area and access can be very difficult without the aid of landownership maps. The new archery world record typical elk came out of this region this year and is sure to cause a tilt in draw odds for this coming year. If you’ve been contemplating this region at all, then 2017 will be the year to apply before odds climb even higher.


MONTANA STATEWIDE ELK HERD POPULATION ESTIMATES (20010-2016)
Montana statewide elk 6 point or better harvest


The goHUNT hit list hunt districts for Montana elk
 

Montana elk taken with Montana Mountain West Outfitters
Montana elk taken with Montana Mountain West Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

 

Top hunt districts to consider for 330” or better bulls on general hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt
District
Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 6pt or
better
HD 212 340"+ 21% 37%
HD 442 340"+ 25% 54%
HD 204 330"+ 10% 26%
HD 210 330"+ 18% 51%
HD 311 330"+ 29% 68%
HD 314 330"+ 30% 67%
HD 411 330"+ 23% 79%
HD 422 330"+ 29% 56%

 

Top hunt districts to consider for 340” or better bulls on limited entry hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt
District
Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 6pt or
better
Permits
issued
Permits drawn
by res. in 2015*
Permits drawn
by NR in 2015*
HD 380 370"+ 9%** 26%** 120 98 2
HD 310 360"+ 16% 7-% 310-45 = Unlimited
310-46 = 5
310-45 = 352
310-46 =5
310-45 = 158
310-46 = 0
HD 680 360"+ 50% 67% 690-20 = 35
690-21 = 35
690-20 = 27
690-21 = 29
690-20 = 3
690-20 = 1
HD 690 360"+ 38% 90% 690-20 = 35
690-21 = 35
690-20 = 27
690-21 = 29
690-20 = 3
690-20 = 1
HD 447 350"+ 27% 87% 75 60 4
HD 410 350"+ 35% 68% 410-20 = 100
410-21 = 1,900
410-20 = 84
410-21 = 1,701
410-20 = 1
410-21 = 185
HD 417 340" 28% 98% 410-21 = 1,900
417-20 = 100
410-21 = 1,701
417-20 = 77
410-21 = 185
417-20 = 8
HD 622 340"+ 49% 97% 620-21 = 1,400
620-20 = 50
620-21 = 1,045
620-20 = 37
620-21 = 125
620-20 = 5

* Info on the 2016 drawing for elk is not yet available.
** This is one of the few districts in Montana where spike bull elk can also be hunted, which will greatly skew the statistics.

Special notes on limited entry districts

HD 310

The 310-45 tag has an unlimited quota and is a 100% guarantee to draw if applied for. This permit is only valid on lands not found within the Gallatin Special Management Area. Great bulls can be found with this permit during years of heavy snowfall, but hunting can be tough during periods of light snow. With the 310-46 permit, hunters can hunt lands directly adjacent to Yellowstone National Park within the Gallatin Special Management Area although this area is comprised of incredibly difficult terrain to hunt and is primarily considered a backcountry districts. This is only recommended for hunters experienced in this style of hunting.

HD 680/HD 690

These districts are found in the Bearpaw Mountains on the north side of the Missouri River Breaks. Holders of the 690-20 or 690-21 archery only permit can hunt bulls in either district. This is considered one of the best districts in the state with bulls commonly landing in the 390”+ range and takes many years of applying to draw.

HD 410/HD417

Hunters who draw the 410-20 permit can hunt both the archery and any weapon season within HD 410. With the 410-21, hunters can only hunt the archery season but the permit can also be used in HD 417. Hunters possessing the 417-20 may hunt the archery only or any weapon season within HD 417 only.

HD 622

This permit is good in for hunting districts 620, 621 and 622. The 620-21 permit is good for archery only whereas the 620-20 is useable only during the any weapons season.

The 900 series elk tag

Another unique tag for archery hunters to consider is the 900-20 permit. Note: if you apply for the 900 series elk tag and don't have an archery stamp, you're application will be rejected. This permit, only good for the archery elk season, is usable in the following hunting districts: 401, 403, 411, 412, 426, 447, 450, 500, 502, 510, 511, 520, 530, 570, 575, 580, 590, 701, 702, and 704. While not every one of these districts will produce a trophy quality bull, most will offer opportunities at bulls at or above the 300” mark. In previous years, many hunters could grab this permit on their second choice though this has since changed and will more than likely need to be drawn as first choice. Residents can still draw this with 100% odds on zero points though this will likely change in the next few years.


 

How to uncover hidden gem elk districts
 

2016 Montana elk taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
2016 Montana elk taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

While the state's biggest bulls are found in the top shelf draw districts many hunters can find great success and trophy bulls in some of the general districts year after year while they accumulate points. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the districts that have a legitimate chance at bulls that score 320” or better. Customize your search and click on a specific district to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Montana Elk Species Profile is another great way to determine other districts and regions of the state to consider. Within the Species Profile you will find a table showing the top B&C producing districts over the years for both typical and nontypical bulls. 


 

B&C entry trends for Montana elk

Hunt Districts listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Hunt Districts in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county.

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Park 5 301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580
Gallatin 5 301, 309, 310, 311, 312, 314, 333, 361, 362, 390, 393
Powder River 4 704, 705
Lewis & Clark 4 150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455
Jefferson 3 311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380
Fergus 3 410, 411, 412, 417, 418, 419, 426, 511, 530

 

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Fergus 2 410, 411, 412, 417, 418, 419, 426, 511, 530
Jefferson 1 311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380
Blaine 1 600, 611, 621, 680, 690
Teton 1 404, 406, 441, 442, 444, 450
Hill 1 400, 600, 690
Lewis & Clark 1 150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455

 


 

Managing points and expectations

Montana utilizes a random lottery draw for permits that is weighted through bonus points. While this system is great for applicants with only a handful of points, it doesn't reward applicants at the maximum point level. The bottom line is: if you have a district you want to hunt then apply! No matter the draw odds you still have a chance at drawing. Every year that you are unsuccessful in drawing a desired permit you will be awarded a bonus point to use the following year. When used, bonus points are squared so an applicant with four points will have 16 total chances in the pool.

2017 maximum bonus points for elk: 13

MONTANA RESIDENT ELK BONUS POINTS GOING INTO THE 2017 DRAW
MONTANA NONRESIDENT ELK BONUS POINTS GOING INTO THE 2017 DRAW

Note: For another view of the bonus point breakdown using tables, visit the Montana Elk Species Profile. The table view will allow for an easier readout of the higher point totals.

Find your draw odds

With Montana utilizing a random draw it is important to understand that possessing the maximum number of points will never guarantee a tag like other states that utilize preference points. This simple fact can steer a lot of hopeful applicants away but if you're already considering hunting Montana on a general tag, for an additional $20 per point it doesn’t hurt to participate.

Montana is a state managed for opportunity and because of this does not have the amount of top quality districts as found in surrounding states. Good hunt districts are available across the state with four points or under, but the top tier districts will require maximum points and, even then, the odds will rarely eclipse 40%.

I have 0 elk points. What can I expect?

Before beginning your application strategy it will be important to first decide your end goal for Montana. Mainly, do you plan on hunting Montana on general tags or are you only interested in building points to use later? As a nonresident, applicants will need to apply for their combo license in addition to any extra permits. If you are unsuccessful in the draw you are only granted an 80% refund of your total application cost if you are not interested in hunting the general districts. If you wish to hunt other states, you can simply purchase the $50 bonus point and move on. If you do plan on hunting the general season regardless then put in for your district of choice. Because it’s a lottery system there is always a chance of drawing!

Residents

Many districts can be found in this state with an unlimited quota meaning your odds of drawing are 100%. These can be great to draw when you have zero points, but will ultimately waste any future points you may accrue if applied for at a later date. As a resident, consider hunting general districts as you build bonus points for some of the top shelf districts. If you are an archery hunter you may also consider the 900-20 elk permit which carried a 100% draw odd on zero points last year. This is expected to change in the years to come. Along with the 900 series tag, the 620 series archery permit good for 620, 621, 622 can also be drawn to hunt the Missouri Breaks, which offers opportunities at great bulls.

Nonresidents

As with the residents, many districts with an unlimited quota can drawn with 100% odds. The 900 series archery tag carries 30% odds for nonresidents with zero points and is not out of the question to draw. If you are saving points for top tier districts then apply for these as normal and pray for luck in the random draw with a strong contingency of hunting general districts.

What can I do with 3 or 4 elk points?

With three to four points both residents and nonresidents will see very few additional districts (compared to those with zero to two points). However, nonresidents will now see a few more districts available with 100% odds, which can be an attractive use of points. These will primarily consist of archery only seasons with most of the “good” rifle districts taking maximum points to draw.

Residents

If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. General districts can still provide excellent opportunities at bulls above the 300” mark. Archery hunters can now draw HD 632, which can provide opportunities at bulls reaching the 340” mark. Keep in mind that all of the archery permit districts are now within reach except for HD 680, 690. So if you're an archery hunter, it would be wise to attempt to cash in those points so you can draw again. Of the 40 rifle permit districts for residents, 12 of them have 25% or better draw odds with four points. You can see that breakdown here.

Nonresidents

If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. Archery hunters can now draw the 620 series archery permit good for 620, 621, 622 to hunt the north side of the Missouri Breaks, which can provide some excellent hunting with great trophy quality. Just like for residents, with four points, almost all of the archery permit districts are now within reach except for HD 680, 690. So if you're an archery hunter, it might be wise to attempt to cash in those points so you can draw again. Of the 34 rifle permit districts for nonresidents, 9 of them have 25% or better draw odds with four points. You can see that breakdown here.

What can I expect with 9, 10 or more elk points?

At this point level residents and nonresidents are nearing the maximum point capacity. Applying for anything other than the top tier districts will merely result in burning points on hunting districts that could be drawn on far less. Odds will still be steep but your odds simply won’t improve beyond this point with Montana’s drawing system.

Residents

If you’re after the best bulls in the state then you’ll want to be putting in for HDs 380, 680, or 690. These will provide opportunities at bulls above the 360” mark with several eclipsing the 400” mark every year. Odds will still be incredibly steep here, but you’re finally at the top of the heap and will have the best odds you’ll ever see. 

The good news, your draw odds for the archery permit in HD 680, 690 is now 20% (which is pretty good for Montana's system). The bad news, draw odds are only getting worse year after year for this district. It's going to be a long wait for HD 380. At 10 points your draw odds are still only 3.0%. But someone has to draw, so if this is the hunt district you have your heart set on, then keep applying. The problem is 9,374 residents want to draw one of 100 tags. If you have your heart set on hunting HD 680, 690 for the any legal weapon hunt, you might be in for a long wait, but your draw odds are now at 10%.

Nonresidents

As with the resident applicants, you will want to focus your efforts on HDs 380, 680, or 690 if you've been waiting this long. Or consider trying to draw other districts that might meet your criteria for a quality hunt. Odds will still be incredibly steep here but you’re finally at the top of the heap and will have the best odds you’ll ever see. For the HD 680, 690 archery tag, your draw odds are now 20%. If your looking one of the top rifle districts, your draw odds are 10% for HD 680, 690 and only 3.0% for HD 380. Keep in mind that of the 41 total permit districts (archery and rifle) you have greater than 70% draw odds on 15 districts. You can see that breakdown here.



Montana's 2017 deer breakdown
 

Dave Barnett with his 2016 Montana mule deer
goHUNT writer Dave Barnett with his 2016 Montana mule deer.

Montana is a state managed for opportunity, which makes it a great destination for deer hunters. With research and utilization of tools like Filtering 2.0 hunters can quickly uncover districts that can produce great bucks year after year. While the top tier mule deer draw districts have been known for producing bucks in the 190” and above range, many hunters are experiencing great hunts in general districts with opportunities at bucks above the 150” benchmark. Whitetail can be hunted statewide on the general tag with many bucks reaching 140”+ being taken every year.

MONTANA STATEWIDE MULE DEER HARVEST (2004-2015)
MONTANA STATEWIDE WHITETAIL HARVEST (2004-2015)

Current deer herd condition
 

2016 Montana mule deer distribution and population estimate
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

2016 Montana whitetail deer distribution and population estimate
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Deer populations for both mule deer and whitetail have done very well in the past few years. Mild winters and wet springs have made for some great antler growth and fawn recruitment. Mule deer continue to struggle on the western half of the state, specifically in Regions 1 and 2 although steps and measures from local organizations have been put in place to aid the deer through feed and habitat conservation. Both whitetail and mule deer can be hunted through the rut, leading to lower age classes throughout the state; however, this does offer the best opportunity to find mature bucks for hunters. As the 2016/2017 winter progresses, it will be important to keep an eye on snow levels and late winter storms as the possibility of large amounts of winter kill is a real danger across all of the state.

Montana deer hunting region breakdown

Montana hunting region map 2
Montana hunting region map. Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Region 1—Estimated deer population mule deer (6,918), whitetail (81,908)

Region 1 is found in the northwest corner of the st andate features some of the roughest and toughest country to hunt. This area experiences heavy snowfall and rain throughout the year, which leads to incredible amounts of dense ground cover. This vegetation combined with steep ridges that top out in impassable rocky cliffs gives hunters a physically demanding hunt. Whitetail are thriving in the lowland areas and some great bucks are every year, including several in the top end of the B&C records for Montana. Mule deer are found in lower densities here; however, they have the potential of turning into mature, dark antlered giants thanks to the terrain and cover. Trophy potential for both species is generally lower in this area but that figure can be slightly skewed due the fact that bucks can easily grow old and die in this country. Winter kill is a major concern for this winter and populations may still drop even more. While this is a physically demanding area of the state, this region will present hunters with unparalleled beauty and a hard earned opportunity.

Region 2—Estimated deer population mule deer (15,960), whitetail (36,357)

Region 2, found on the extreme western edge of the state, is home to the famous Bitterroot Valley though hunting success in this area has been down for a few years now, specifically among mule deer. Going against the norm, HDs 261 and 270 provide some of the biggest mule deer in the state with a handful eclipsing the 200” mark taken every year. Hunting competition will be high around the city of Missoula, which is located at the heart of the region. In the northern end of the area, hunters will encounter dense forests similar to Region 1 before the terrain and vegetation transitions into more open and sage-covered slopes on the southern end. Previous logging and mining activity can be found across much of the region, providing hunters with easy access into the backcountry and making navigation and avoiding crowds somewhat difficult. Winter kill is still a minor concern in this area though it is not expected to make a huge impact.

Region 3—Estimated deer population mule deer (43,049), whitetail (24,469)

The southwest corner of the state holds good populations of deer and also houses great wintering grounds for migratory herds of mule deer. Region 3 attracts a lot of rifle elk hunters, which can really increase competition during the any weapon season. More opportunities for backcountry backpack style hunting can be found here for hunters looking to distance themselves from competition. This will help hunters find older bucks. Wolves continue to be a problem in this area during winter months though hunting and trapping efforts have somewhat curbed hunter-wolf altercations during the season. This area holds some of the highest concentrations of grizzlies and experiences the bulk of hunter and bear encounters. This problem is exemplified in areas immediately surrounding Yellowstone.

Region 4—Estimated deer population mule deer (64,264), whitetail (30,436)

Region 4 is found in the north central portion of the state and offers an incredible array of terrain, ranging from steep heavily forested slopes to sage-covered coulees in the Missouri River Breaks. Competition will be high in most areas though hunters can still find areas to escape deep into the backcountry. The northern part of the region features large expanses of private land, which can make access difficult though some great bucks can be found here. On the western side of the area, hunters can hunt the famed Rocky Mountain Front, which features breathtaking scenery, very rugged country, and excellent mule deer hunting. Grizzlies are also prevalent in this area and proper precaution must be adhered to. Predation on the western side of the region has been reduced again thanks to hunting and trapping efforts. The eastern side of the area tends to provide a better hunt for most hunters as deer can be glassed from a long distance making it much easier to find larger caliber bucks.

Region 5—Estimated deer population mule deer (36,182), whitetail (15,890)

This region, located in south central Montana, generally produces smaller bucks compared to the rest of the state; however, some great deer are taken every year. Large ranches found here will hold large populations of the deer and competition on the public lands surrounding these areas can be tight. On the southern end of the region, hunters can find access into the Custer-Gallatin Forest, which can provide ample amounts of country to escape crowds. Be aware that getting into the backcountry can be very physically demanding and game densities are very low.

Region 6—Estimated deer population mule deer (61,863), whitetail (15,350)

Region 6 is an area that will see large amounts of hunters heading into the famous Missouri River Breaks through some incredible hunting can also be found in the surrounding districts. Private lands dominate much of this area though sections of BLM land can provide hunters with great opportunities to escape the crowds and search for pockets of unpressured deer. The terrain here is mostly comprised of rolling hills with pockets of heavy timber and sage-covered coulees. Glassing is king in this country and optics will play a pivotal role in success for anyone hunting here. 2017 should be another great year for deer in this area thanks to heavy amounts of precipitation experienced so far.

Region 7—Estimated deer population mule deer (135,000), whitetail (16,330)

One of the most popular regions for mule deer as it possesses the highest population of deer, this area will experience lots of pressure from other hunters. Pay close attention to sections of public land within the sea of private ranches; this can provide hunters with great opportunities to find mature deer. While most hunters will be seeking mule deer, there are some great whitetail here, too, with some bucks even reaching over the 150” mark.

MONTANA STATEWIDE DEER HERD POPULATION ESTIMATES (2010-2016)
Montana statewide mule deer 4 point or better harvest
Montana statewide whitetail deer 4 point or better harvest

 

The goHUNT hit list hunt districts for Montana deer
 

 2016 Montana velvet mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
2016 Montana velvet mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member
 

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 160” or better mule deer bucks on general hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 4pt or
better
HD 410 170"+ 25%* 55%
HD 442 170"+ 34%* 69%
HD 445 170"+ 65%* 57%
HD 701 170"+ 54%* 63%
HD 702 170"+ 52%* 64%
HD 704 170"+ 57%* 66%
HD 705 170"+ 65%* 69%
HD 417 160"+ 43% 78%
 
*Success rates based on 2013 season as Montana has not published hunter numbers data since that year.
 

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 160” or better mule deer bucks on limited entry hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt
District
Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 4pt or
better
Permits
issued
Permits drawn
by res. in 2015*
Permits drawn
by NR in 2015*
HD 261 180"+ 35%** 92% 25 24 1
HD 270 180"+ 22%** 80% 45 42 3
HD 291 170"+ 34%** 84% 30 30 0
HD 300 170"+ 29%** 50% 30 28 2
HD 210 160"+ 23%** 50% 50 48 2
HD 250 160"+ 44%** 100% 40 37 3
HD 441 160"+ 40%** 88% 35 33 2
HD 652 160"+ 56%** 78% 50 45 5

* Info on the 2016 drawing for deer is not yet available
**Success rates based on 2013 season as Montana has not published hunter numbers data since that year.

Special notes on mule deer limited entry hunt districts

When looking at the table it can be easy to be deterred when specifically looking at the success rates. MFWP does not differentiate between mule deer and whitetail hunter numbers so actual success rates on mule deer will be much higher.

At first glance, many hunters may question the decision to even apply for a special permit when so many general districts can produce bucks with the same trophy potentials. While this may be true, many of permit areas possess a much higher percentage of bucks classified as four points or better. What this equates out to is a much higher potential of encountering bucks at the top of the trophy potential for a given district.

When considering Montana as part of your western application strategy it is also important to note that the state is managed for opportunity with only a handful of areas actually being managed for trophy quality. Generally speaking, some of the best deer will only be accessible to high point holders and, even then, odds can be steep. There are some great permits to be drawn in Montana, but many of the general hunts can also provide excellent hunts.

Whitetail deer
 

Marc Haywood 2016 Montana whitetail taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
Marc Haywood's 2016 Montana whitetail taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member
 

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 140” or better whitetail bucks on general hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 4pt or
better
HD 132 150"+ 31%* 47%
HD 170 150"+ 57%* 61%
HD 309 140"+ 48%* 91%
HD 320 140"+ 42%* 81%
HD 322 140"+ 58%* 87%
HD 444 140"+ 32%* 88%
HD 455 140"+ 35%* 92%
HD 670 140"+ 14%* 89%
*Success rates based on 2013 season as Montana has not published hunter numbers data since that year.

 

How to uncover hidden gem hunt districts

2016 Montana mule deer taken with Power River Outfitters

2016 Montana mule deer taken with Power River Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

While the state's biggest bucks are found in the top shelf draw districts many hunters can find great success and trophy deer in some of the general districts year after year as they accumulate points. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the districts that have a legitimate chance at bucks that score 160” or better for mule deer and 140” or better for whitetail. Customize your search and click on a specific district to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Montana Mule Deer and Whitetail Species Profile is another great way to determine other districts and regions of the state to consider. Within the Species Profile you will find a table showing the top B&C producing districts over the years for both typical and nontypical bucks.

B&C entry trends for Montana deer

Hunt Districts listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Hunt Districts in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county.

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Ravalli 5 204, 240, 250, 261, 270
Dawson 1 651, 703
Toole 1 400, 401, 403, 406
Rosebud 1 701, 702, 704
Pondera 1 400, 404, 406, 441
Sheridan 1 640, 641

 

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt 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 top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical whitetail deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Toole 1 400401403406
Lake 1 120, 130, 132
Gallatin 1 301, 309, 310, 311, 312,
314, 333, 361, 362, 390, 393

 

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Powder 1 704, 705
Powell 1 150, 212, 213, 215, 280, 281, 282, 290, 291, 292, 293, 298

 


 

Managing points and expectations

2017 max bonus points for deer: 13

Montana resident deer bonus points going into the 2017 draw
Montana nonresident deer bonus points going into the 2017 draw

For another view of the bonus point breakdown using tables, visit the Montana Mule Deer Species Profile or Montana Whitetail Deer Species Profile. The table view will allow for an easier readout of the higher point totals.

Find your draw odds

I have 0 deer points. What can I expect?

Before beginning your application strategy, it is important to first decide your end goal for Montana. Mainly, do you plan on hunting Montana on general tags or are you only interested in building points to use later? As a nonresident, applicants will need to apply for their combo license in addition to any extra permits. If you are unsuccessful in the draw you are only granted an 80% refund of your total application cost if you are not interested in hunting the general districts. If you wish to hunt other states, you can simply purchase the $50 bonus point and move on. If you do plan on hunting the general season regardless, then put in for your district of choice because with the lottery system there is always a chance of drawing!

Residents
At zero points your options are going to be very limited in draw tags. Some districts can be drawn with unlimited quotas and a 100% chance of drawing, but these will generally have very low trophy potentials and are merely used as management tools. Consider hunting general districts while applying for your desired district. With the lottery system you always have a slim chance of drawing. Check out this link to see hunts you could draw with zero, or to see how long it might take until you will have a chance to draw a tag.

Nonresidents
As with the residents, many districts with an unlimited quota can be drawn with 100% odds. Consider hunting general districts while applying for your desired district. With the lottery system you always have a slim chance of drawing.

What can I do with 3 or 4 deer points?

With three to four points both residents and nonresidents will find very few additional districts as they did with zero to two points. Keep applying for your desired district while you continue to build points.

Residents
If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. General districts can still provide good opportunities at bucks above the 150” mark.

Nonresidents
If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. General districts can still provide good opportunities at bucks above the 150” mark. Also, some districts can have very high draw odds and some of them have fewer people applying for them. Check out the draw odds here to find hunts you have a decent chance to draw.

What can I expect with 9, 10 or more deer points?

At this point level residents and nonresidents are nearing the maximum point capacity. Applying for anything other than some of the top tier districts will merely result in burning points on hunting districts that could be drawn on far less. Odds will still be steep but your odds simply won’t improve beyond this point with Montana’s drawing system.

Residents
Residents may tire of continually applying for the best districts in the state and not being rewarded for having maximum points. Aside from continuing to apply for HDs 261 and 270 there are a few standout districts that can provide opportunities at bucks above the 160”+ mark including HDs 210, 250, 291, 312, 441, and 652.

The odds of drawing the HD 261, 262 tag are only 4.8% at 10 points. But since you're a resident, you might be able to shoot for the stars every year. The odds for HD 270 are even worse at 2.4%

Nonresidents
As with the residents, nonresidents are now nearing the maximum point level and really have their hands tied with districts to burn their precious points on. HDs 261 and 270 will still provide the best bucks, but HDs 210, 250, 291, 312, 441, and 652 can be good backups to consider. 

The odds of drawing the HD 261, 262 tag are only 4.8% at 10 points. But since you're a resident, you might be able to shoot for the stars every year. The odds for HD 270 are even worse at 1.6%.

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