Here's what Montana hunting is all about.
Hunting in Big Sky Country may just be the ultimate bucket list destination for hunters across the nation. We all love hunting in our home state and may even think that it's the best, but Montana has the size, the wild game, and an open-arm attitude towards out-of-state hunters that borders on sainthood.
The good folks who live and operate outfitters and guide services in the Treasure State love to extend a hand to those who may never had have the chance to partake in all that the state offers in the way of hunting. And just in case you've been living on the moon for the last 100 years, the fishing in Montana is some of the best anywhere!
There's a very good reason why there are so many veteran guide services in the state. The people of Montana want to share the natural beauty and bountiful game, but are extremely serious about their duty towards its care and conservation.
Montanans understand the importance of what they have and want to see it there for future generations of Americans.
First, let's look at the wild game that Montana offers to hunters making this state so tremendous as a destination for outdoorsmen and women everywhere.
Montana Outdoors says, "Muleys are often open-country deer. They'll sit contentedly out in sparse cover, brush that barely breaks up their outlines, brush that would make the average whitetail feel downright naked."
The best glassing times are during the morning and evening hours since mule deer are more apt to be moving then, and it's always easier to spot moving deer than bedded ones. Clear days are always welcome, but you may need to catch a glint of sunlight off an antler to make contact.
They are most abundant in the southeastern corner of the state. Many experienced hunters say if you want to kill a big mule deer buck, you're going to have to work for it in Montana.
Antelope are easy to spot since they live in the open prairie all across the eastern two-thirds of Montana. Montana offers rifle and even self-guided archery antelope hunts over water holes in common areas.
Hunters can buy over-the-counter antelope licenses and sometimes even surplus licenses area available, but in some areas getting a tag is difficult since so few are offered and they go so fast.
Elk hunting in Montana may seem like a daunting task at first, but there are ways to get it done. The state's Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and their numbering systems, along with a telephone book-sized collection of regulations, might be intimidating. But even people just starting to learn about elk can find plenty of info on where to go and what to do by consulting the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
Whitetail deer are one of the two species of deer found in Montana, and wherever they are found they draw a lot of attention. Whitetails spread throughout most of the state, but they tend to prefer the vegetated areas of coulees along rivers and stream bottoms. They also maintain populations in the heavily-forested areas of western Montana.
Montana's river bottoms offer some of the finest trophy whitetail deer hunting in the country, and when you can do it in the shadows of a beautiful range like the Crazy Mountains, all the better.
Fall bear hunters have success in Montana, but it is the spring season that really shines when the snow slowly melts, the air is increasingly warm, and sunny days with cooler nights are the norm. Before the trees get their spring on and leaf to the point where it becomes more difficult to see, the glassing is some of the best anywhere.
In Montana, it is illegal to bait bears or run them with dogs, which leaves good scouting and tracking skills as the only options for hunting bears. For some, there is no other way to hunt a big western bruin.
This is a luxury hunt for anyone who wants to take a ram. You'll have to draw one of the very few tags that Montana allots by a strict lottery system. Tags that are won are sometimes sold at auction to the highest bidder for hundred of thousands of dollars, and it's no wonder why.
The attraction of hunting a rare bighorn ram is one of the most sought after bucket list items in hunting, bar none.
Bighorn sheep inhabit most of the western half of the state and reside along cliffs, mountain slopes, rolling foothills; sometimes even cross intermountain valleys. If you want to chase these wild and rare sheep, you had better be in great physical condition and ready to spend some money on a veteran outfitter to increase your chances.
Conditions for Big Game Hunting Montana
According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, "Montana has some of the longest hunting seasons in the West, healthy herds of game and access to millions of acres of public land," and that in 2019 "Northwest Montana experienced a mild winter...which resulted in good adult and fawn survival for white-tailed deer. Overall numbers should be similar or slightly higher than last year. There should also be an increase in the number of yearling bucks on the landscape."
A mild winter can also positively affect other species; it will promote an increased production in adult and fawn mule deer survival. In areas where elk thrive, calf populations can be higher than they have been in other, harsher years. Pronghorn counts can increase to above average with long-term numbers more than remaining stable.
As far as black bears go, numbers are typically steady in northwest Montana. The idea is to look for areas with abundant food sources like huckleberries, service berries, choke cherries, and mountain ash.
Other Montana Hunting Opportunities
Mountain lions, wolves, mountain goats, and moose are also on the hunting menu in Montana, rounding out the majority of the amazing North American hunts that someone could ever want to experience. The MFWP says, "Northwest Montana has abundant wolf numbers. Record harvests in the 2018 and 2019 seasons likely reduced numbers to some extent, but overall populations are healthy."
Cougars have had a varying categorical status in the state throughout the years. The Montana Lion Foundation states that "In 1963 Montana's classification for mountain lions changed to "predator" with no bounty offered. In 1971, Montana reclassified mountain lions as game animals and established a regulated hunting season. This designation still stands." There are limited states that allow mountain lion hunts, but Montana can claim some of the best areas for hunting these cats.
Montana doesn't offer many moose tags, but they disappear quickly, and the same goes for the mountain goat. In fact, in 2019 a new bill was introduced to make Montana bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat, and grizzly bear become a once in a lifetime harvest only. If the bill passes, it will make these hunting opportunities evenmore desirable.
This esteemed Rocky Mountain state offers mule deer hunts, archery elk hunts, bear hunts, hunting for antelopes on the plains, and incredible hunts for the venerable bighorn sheep. These hunting trips can be had on public hunting or private lands in the backcountry, resident or nonresident.
Combo hunting licenses and application deadlines notwithstanding a big game hunt in Montana is the dream of a lifetime for many who hold the fair chase in the highest esteem and only want to visit one of our most beautiful states.
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