Elk In Montana Offer Hunters An Escape from Modern Troubles
To a beginner, resident or nonresident, trying to learn about elk hunting in Montana can seem like entering a secret society. The elk-hunting world is full of complicated numbers and symbols (210-80, 390-00, HD, WMA, BMA, LPT), intimidating restrictions (“Elk HD 424 is subject to 12-hour closure for the antlerless portion of the general brow-tined bull or antlerless elk season.”), and a thick regulations handbook, but you can hunt elk in Montana comfortably and successfully.
Elk range across several million acres of Montana in 148 separate hunting districts. Most live west of a line running from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park. Roughly half of the annual elk harvest comes from southwestern Montana, in places like the Gallatin and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests. Elk also live along the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Big Belt, Little Belt, Pioneer, Bitterroot, Purcell, Mission, and Cabinet mountains, as well as in the Swan, Garnet, and Whitefish ranges.
Once you have a rough idea where you want to hunt, check the FWP elk regulations (available at fwp.mt.gov) to see what hunting districts you will be in and the boundaries, special seasons, regulations, and required permits that apply there.
Montana offers some of the longest hunting seasons in the West. Archery begins in early September, backcountry firearms season starts in mid-September, and the general season runs from late October to the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Bowhunters focus on the pre-rut and rut period of September, when they have the best opportunity of calling in a bull. In a few backcountry areas, firearms hunters also can lure bulls by calling during September and early October. Hunting Montana elk this time of year requires peak fitness to reach the high country, where elk live.
A general elk license is the basic license for hunting elk. It can be used only according to the specific regulations of the hunting district in which you hunt. Many Montana districts also offer a separate antlerless (B) license to hunt cow elk, and some require a special permit to hunt bull elk, while cow elk may be available with a general elk license. See General Elk License in your hunting districts in the FWP elk regulations booklet to see what restrictions apply.
Many people accustomed to hunting deer approach Montana elk hunting unprepared. Elk generally move farther and more frequently than deer, so it usually takes more hiking, especially uphill, to reach elk areas. The caliber of rifle or type of bullet used for deer may not suffice for elk, which are much larger. Read up on calibers and loads suggested for hunting elk, and learn where the elk’s kill zone is. Elk often don’t die as easily or quickly as deer, even with a killing shot. Sometimes several shots are required. Mortally wounded elk will often traverse several hundred yards or more before dropping. Montana proves itself to be a major elk-hunting attraction, and definitely not one to miss out on!