The state of Montana has a long tradition of cowboys, hunting, and wilderness that is still strong to this day. Nowadays, people travel from around the country and the world to hunt, fish, and ski this area of the Rockies. One of the largest draws to is for hunting, specifically targeting the population of 135,000 elk that occupy the state. Here, elk are a kind of way of life, with many households getting a large percentage of their protein from the animal.
Montana Elk Hunting Regulations
Montana allots tags via a lottery drawing system. Here, hunters must apply for tags come April, and will receive their results a few weeks later. There are two options for applications, the first simply being an Elk tag, the other being the deer/elk combo. The combos are more expensive with non-resident tags running $1046, but they give you the opportunity to harvest both an elk and a mule deer or whitetail. The general Elk tag is $884, and the deer is $612, so the combo saves you a great deal of money if you plan to hunt both. The quota for elk tags is 17,000, so your odds of drawing are better here than many other states. Finally, there are many specific “trophy” units that are known for holding larger bulls and are much more difficult to draw tags for, but there are plenty of general units that simply can be hunted by anyone with a general tag.
Montana Elk Hunting Techniques
Elk hunting in Montana typically begins in early September with the start of archery season. This early season runs through mid-October, and takes place during the heat of the rut. This rut gives hunters the best chance at killing big bulls, as the mature animals are focused on fighting and breeding females rather than their safety. Archery hunters frequently use a combination of cow calls and bugles to locate and call in “satellite” bulls during this time of year. Calling is extremely exciting and can prove very effective, with encounters often being up close and personal.
Another popular and highly effective method however is to sit on a water source. High temperatures and the scarcity of water during this season increases elk activity in these areas and gives hunters a great chance at ambushing a bull. Look for areas with wallows (places elk have rolled in the mud and water to cool off and get rid of bugs). Finally, hunters sometimes target bulls that are with a herd. Because these bulls already have plenty of cows, they do not respond well to calling. Instead, hunters must spot and stalk these dominant bulls, patiently waiting for one to break away from the herd before quickly sneaking in for a shot. This technique is extremely difficult, as you are not only trying to beat the bull, but an entire herd of nervous elk.
Techniques change with the beginning of general season in late October. Elk are no longer rutting, and have returned to their usual wariness. Bulls will still be found with herds, so that technique says the same. However, the name of the game this time of year is glassing. Here, hunters will utilize high points in the terrain in conjunction with their optics to pick apart the landscape and locate bulls. Once a target is spotted, sometimes from over a mile away, hunters must sneak within range and wait for a shot opportunity. In the morning, elk will be on the move and hunters can watch them until they bed down. Once bedded, it is much easier to sneak in close for an opportunity as the animal is not moving. In the evening, elk will again be on their feet and become easier to spot. However, there is no bedding period to wait for and hunters must beat the sunset and act before it is too dark. Finally, when hunting elk, the most important variable is the wind. Elk have an extremely good sense of smell and know how to use thermal currents to stay safe from predators. However, skilled hunters can also use these thermals to their advantage, and, if played correctly, sneak in very close to unsuspecting bulls.
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