This is an introduction to hunting elk in Montana. Learning the ropes as a newbie can be an overwhelming process, and this guide is meant for those who know nothing about the process and would like to learn. It will also link to important resources to help you with your next steps.
ELK HUNTING vs DEER HUNTING
Elk hunting is a bigger challenge than deer hunting. Elk move farther than deer do, and they move more often, so you will be required to cover more ground. During peak season, elk are often pushed into much more rugged terrain, and require more effort and greater conditioning. For these reasons, elk hunters generally have lower success rates than deer hunters.
According to the records kept by the state of Montana, only 1 in 5 hunters are ever successful at killing a bull (male elk) or cow (female elk). When it comes to killing a big bull, the number drops to about 1 in 20. It takes a successful hunter 11 days on average to kill an elk.
Elk are much larger than deer, with bulls weighing 300-500 pounds, cows weighing 200-300 pounds, and calves weighing 100-150 pounds. A higher quality rifle and bullet may be needed for the kill.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
As an elk hunter, there are a few essentials you should have with you at all times.
1) Your weapon (this can vary depending on what is allowed at the time of year)
2) Lots of water (dehydration is an issue on long hunts, especially at the higher altitudes you may be moving to).
3) Warm and waterproof clothes
4) A well-stocked outdoor survival kit.
5) Bear spray (elk and grizzly bears share much of the same ranges in Montana)
6) Proper licensing (to be discussed below)
LICENSES FOR ELK HUNTING
To hunt elk in Montana, a general elk hunting license must be obtained. For a resident of Montana, this license can be purchased over the counter for around $30.
For non-residents, some kind of combination license is needed- either big game (deer and elk, costing $900) or just elk (running $800). Both include hunting fish and birds. Montana only makes 17,000 of these each year, so to obtain one you need to enter into a lottery. Applications can be submitted from January to March of each year, with the results announced in April.
There are additional licenses available, such as surplus licenses (that allow you to kill more than one elk in certain districts) and bow hunting licenses (allowing you to also hunt with a bow during archery season).
Prices and rules for each license may differ from district to district.
WHEN TO HUNT ELK
The hunting season in Montana runs from early September to just after Thanksgiving.
Archery season begins in early September.
Back country firearm season begins in mid-September.
General firearm season begins in late October, and runs until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
By the time general firearm season begins, most of the elk have been pushed into the forest and mountains. To find them you will need to hike into the heavy timber, or find the places they go to eat at dusk and dawn.
Late in the season, elk are pushed from the mountains by the cold down into the valley. This makes them easier to spot, but most of this land is private and of limits.
WHERE TO HUNT ELK
Montana has 148 hunting districts (and millions of acres) that elk move across. Some forest, mountain areas and ranges known for being good for elk hunting:
The front of the Rockies
Elk are mostly found west of Glacier National Park and Yellow Stone Park, particularly in the southwest.
HIRING A GUIDE
Guides are available to help you find a place to hunt, help you with the permit process, and guide you through the hunting trip. They can be found through outfitters, businesses that supply them.
A 5 day guided hunt will cost around $3000-$5000, licenses not included.
Montana Outfitters is a website that can help you find an outfitter right for you:
The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website has resources that can help you prepare for a hunt, including maps of public and private lands.
FOR RELATED ARTICLES, CHECK OUT TEXAS WHITE TAIL DEER HUNTING.
Good luck and stay prepared!