Want to test your luck to experience tons of unique hunting experiences? Well, hunting in Montana has loads of opportunities for both meat and trophy hunters.
If lucky enough, Montana hunters are subject to enjoy the rare bison hunting in the United States. Moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat hunting are also possible through lottery. Yes, all in one state!
The state has vast public lands and Block Management Program to ensure that you’re in for ample opportunities to pursue your desired quarry!
Read more through this article to experience the excellence of hunting in Montana.
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Montana Hunting Season
In Montana, hunting seasons are managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), a state agency responsible for conserving and managing wildlife and their habitats.
The FWP ensures the long-term health and sustainability of Montana’s wildlife populations while providing hunting opportunities through well-managed seasons:
Big Game Season
Montana is renowned for its big game hunting opportunities, with species such as elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison, and black bear.
Big game hunting seasons in Montana are relatively similar to its surrounding states like South and North Dakota. Take a look at the general hunting season in the season:
|Deer & Elk Hunting Season
|General: Late October to late November
Shoulder: Mid-August to mid-February
Archery: Early September to mid-October
Muzzleloader: Early to mid-December
Backcountry: Mid-September to late November
Archery Backcountry: Early to mid-September
|Black Bear Season
|Spring: Mid-April to late May
Fall: Mid-September to late November
Archery: Early to mid-September
|Wolf Hunting Season
|Archery: Early to mid-September
General: Mid-September to mid-March
|General: Mid-September to late November
Archery: Early to mid-September
|Mid-November to mid-February
|Moose & Mountain Goat Season
|Mid-September to late November
Other Game Season
Aside from Montana’s rich and cultured big game, the state offers other hunting opportunities for non-big game hunters.
While some games can be hunted year-round, others have specific seasons. Here’s a general overview of non-big game hunting seasons in Montana:
|Merriam Turkey Season
|Fall: Early September to early January
Spring: Mid-April to late May
|Rabbits & Hares Season
|Early September to late February
|Pheasant: Early October to early January
Grouse: Early September to early December
Hungarian Partridge: Early September to early January
|Ducks and Coots: Early October to mid-January
Geese: Early October to late January
Falconry: Late September to late January
Please note that hunting season dates, bag limits, and regulations may change from year to year.
It’s essential to consult the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website (http://fwp.mt.gov/) for the most up-to-date information regarding your hunt!
Popular Hunting in Montana
Elk hunting in Montana is a highly sought-after experience for hunters due to the state’s vast public lands, diverse terrain, and status of having one of the largest elk populations in the U.S.
Elk are found across Montana in various habitats, including high alpine areas, dense forests, open meadows, and river valleys. Understanding elk behavior and habitat preferences is vital for a successful hunt.
During the early archery season, elk may still be in their summer patterns, occupying high elevations and focusing on feeding. In the rifle season, elk may be more elusive due to increased hunting pressure and start transitioning to their winter ranges.
Deer hunting in Montana is popular and widely accessible, with abundant white-tailed and mule deer populations throughout the state. The diverse landscape and healthy deer populations offer both novice and experienced hunters various hunting opportunities.
White-tailed and mule deer are found across Montana in various habitats. White-tailed deer prefer riparian areas, agricultural lands, and mixed forests, while mule deer are more commonly found in open sagebrush, grasslands, and woodland habitats.
During the general rifle season, Montana requires hunters to wear a minimum of 400 square inches of hunter-orange material above the waist and visible from all sides. This requirement is in place to increase visibility among hunters and enhance safety in the field.
Black Bear Hunting
Like Idaho, the state of Montana opens both fall and spring hunting seasons for black bear hunters. The state has a healthy black bear population, and hunting can provide a challenging and rewarding experience.
Montana is home to black and grizzly bears, with the latter being federally protected. To ensure hunters can differentiate between black bears and grizzly bears, Montana requires black bear hunters to pass a bear identification test before obtaining a license.
The test is available online, and passing it demonstrates a hunter’s ability to recognize the physical differences between the two species.
Aside from the mandatory bear identification test, hunters must also obtain a black bear license on top of the general hunting license.
In Montana, some hunting opportunities are managed through a lottery system to regulate and maintain healthy wildlife populations.
These limited-entry hunts typically involve big game species, such as moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bison.
The application period for these special permits in Montana typically runs from mid-March to early May. Applications can be submitted online through the Montana FWP’s website or by mail.
Once selected, the state requires drawn hunters to purchase a game-specific license on top of the general hunting license.
- Resident License (for Bison/Moose/Bighorn Sheep/Mountain Goat): $125.00
- Nonresident License (for Bison/Moose/Bighorn Sheep/Mountain Goat): $1,250.00
Like Wyoming, Montana is included as one of the lucky states allowing bison hunting.
Bison, also known as buffalo, were once abundant across the Great Plains but experienced a significant decline in population due to overhunting and habitat loss. Today, Montana has a small, managed bison population, and hunting opportunities are limited to ensure their continued survival.
Moose hunting in Montana offers a unique and exciting experience for hunters pursuing one of North America’s largest and most elusive game animals. Moose typically reside across the state in various habitats, including mountainous regions, dense forests, and wetlands where they can freely roam.
Proper field care is crucial when hunting moose; these animals are large and can yield significant meat.
Bighorn Sheep Hunting
Bighorn sheep hunting in Montana offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for trophy hunters to pursue one of North America’s most sought-after and iconic animals.
Montana’s rugged mountain ranges provide an ideal habitat for bighorn sheep, making it a premier destination for this challenging and rewarding hunt.
Mountain Goat Hunting
Mountain goat hunting in Montana plays a vital role in maintaining healthy mountain goat populations and sustainably managing the species.
The limited-entry permit system ensures that only a small number of mountain goats are harvested each year, allowing the population to continue thriving while providing unique hunting opportunities for a select few hunters.
Where to Hunt in Montana
Montana is well-known for its diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife, making it a top hunter destination. While there are numerous hunting areas throughout the state, some stand out for their exceptional opportunities.
Here are some of the best hunting areas in Montana:
Bitterroot National Forest
Bitterroot National Forest covers approximately 1.6 million acres of diverse terrain, ranging from rugged mountains to lush valleys.
This national forest provides habitat for several big game species in the state. Additionally, the forest support various game bird species such as wild turkey, grouse, and other upland game birds.
Bitterroot National Forest includes three wilderness areas:
- Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness
- Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness
- Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.
When hunting in Bitterroot National Forest, be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions, as well as the possibility of encounters with large predators like black bears and mountain lions.
Charles M. Russell NWR
The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) is a vast and diverse area in central Montana, covering over one million acres of mixed-grass prairie, river breaks, and badlands.
The CMR is home to a variety of big game species, including elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep. Additionally, the refuge offers opportunities for bird hunting, particularly ducks, geese, sharp-tailed grouse, and Hungarian partridge.
Since CMR is a protected area, hunters are encouraged to practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize the hunting effect on the environment. Pack out all trash, respect wildlife, and follow all regulations to ensure the refuge remains a pristine and healthy ecosystem for future generations.
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest national forest in Montana, covering approximately 3.36 million acres in southwestern Montana.
The forest features diverse landscapes, including high mountain peaks, rolling hills, and forested valleys, which provide habitat for various big game species. In addition, hunters can pursue upland game birds like blue grouse, ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, and waterfowl in certain areas.
Hunting within this forest may be subject to additional federal regulations. Be sure to consult both Montana FWP and the U.S. Forest Service for specific hunting regulations in the area.4
Note: Montana requires all hunters born after January 1, 1985, to complete a certified hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license.
All Montana hunters must possess a valid conservation hunting license together with the type of species they want to pursue. Here’s the list of the hunting license available in the state:
|Deer and Elk A-License Combination
|Black Bear License
|Upland Game Bird License
|Deer and Elk A-License Combination
|Black Bear License
|Upland Game Bird License
Block Management Program
The Block Management Program in Montana is a cooperative effort between private landowners and Montana FWP to provide public hunting access to private lands while conserving wildlife populations and respecting landowners’ rights.
The program provides public hunting access to millions of acres of private land across Montana. Landowners who participate in the Block Management Program receive benefits such as liability protection, assistance with managing public access, and financial compensation to offset the potential impacts of public hunting.
There are two general types of BMAs:
- Hunters in Type I BMAs must obtain permission from the landowner or designated representative, often at the landowner’s residence or a specified location.
- Type II BMAs require hunters to obtain a valid BMA Access Permit, which can be reserved online, at an FWP office, or through the mail.
Falconry Waterfowl Hunting
Falconry is an ancient form of hunting that involves using trained birds of prey to hunt game species.
In Montana, falconry can be used as a legal method to hunt waterfowl, including ducks and geese, under specific regulations set by the Montana FWP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To practice falconry in Montana, you must obtain a valid falconry permit from the FWP. This requires completing a falconry apprenticeship, passing a written exam, and having appropriate facilities and equipment for housing and caring for your raptor.