Hunters understand that to truly enjoy their time out in the wild and experience a strong connection with wilderness and the wildlife of the world; there’s a lot of prep work that has to take place first.
Nonresidents need to know what permits you need in advance, what type of game you’re after and what season they’re available, what you’ll need, like food provisions, clothing, and camouflage. These are all as much a part of your hunting trip as actually being there.
With a multitude of rules and regulations regarding what hunting weapon you use and which type of game you want to hunt, Montana seasons can be a lot to get yourself ready for, whether you’re new to the world of hunting or a seasoned pro.
The wildlife opportunities and beautiful Montana countryside make an experience that every hunter should make time for.
The state of Montana is huge, offering almost 7.8 million acres of potential hunting land. Some of this is private property; however, Montana has a program that promotes owners of private property and land management companies to allow hunters like you onto the property during particular hunting seasons.
Within these lands reside a wide variety of game: From antelope and deer to Elk, bear, wolf, and bison. No matter what size sport you’re looking for, Montana more than likely has a season for it.
What Permits Do You Need?
Generally speaking, there are two primary types of permits you’ll need from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department to keep in mind when putting together your Montana trip: Archery and General. There’s also the 900 series, but we’ll cover that soon.
Archery is what it sounds like, bow hunting only. Different varieties of bows are allowed for an archery hunt, but this is a rifle-free time of the season. It usually takes place in the first half of the season, from around September 5th to October 18. Remember, you'll need a bow and arrow license.
After the archery season is finished, the general season is from October 24th to November 29th. While you could still potentially use a bow during the general season, be aware that rifles will also be allowed and thus disturb your bow hunting experience.
The 900 series is also bow hunting only. However, it extends the full range of the season from mid-August up until mid-November.
For residents, you’ll have a much wider variety of options as far as your permits go, such as the General pass, typically allowing for multiple zones and one successful kill, for the type of game that you’re hunting.
Non-residents of Montana will have to use the drawing system and hone in on a specific zone area to hunt in, and your permit prices will be significantly higher. But it’s still worth the price.
Permits will have an application deadline about a month or so before the actual season begins, so make sure to have everything you need ready and submitted early. You’ll also potentially need more than one permit depending on the type of game that you plan on hunting, particularly with smaller game birds.
Some animals and zones require a lottery system for permits that have a small initial fee but if your license fee application is selected, then you’ll be required to pay the full license fee immediately.
Different Game Seasons
One of the draws of hunting in Montana is that the state offers all sorts of games and a variety of hunting devices that you can use. Whether you’re interested in archery, rifle, or fishing, there are plenty of options for you to pursue.
However, it’s important to note that each of these animals and hunting weapon choices come with their own permits and season range to spread out the hunters and preserve the wildlife that exists during the rest of the year.
Check which season you’re interested in and plan accordingly.
Deer and Elk
Mule deer, general deer, and elk share the same dates when it comes to hunting in Montana state lands, so we’ll discuss them both in one section.
If you’re interested in using a bow to hunt deer or elk, then you’ll be up first in the season. Archery is available from September 5th to October 18th. However, the backcountry archery season may vary depending on where you are in the state, so make sure to double-check where you’re going.
The general hunting season for deer or elk is October 24th until November 29th, just after the archery season ends. If you’re interested in backcountry hunting with your rifle, you’d have more opportunities as that season ranges from September 15th up to November 29th.
If you’re interested in hunting antelope, you’ll have similar but slightly different dates to get out there. If you want a full season of archery, check out the 900 series, which runs from August 15th until November 8th.
Otherwise, if you’re just looking at archery, then get ready to be there between September 5th and October 9th, with the general season starting a day later on October 10th until November 8th.
Bison hunting can be exhilarating whether you go towards the start of the season before it gets too cold or you head out while the snow is coming down. There’s only a general season option, but it gives you plenty of time, running from November 15th until February 15th.
The black bear can be a particularly dangerous animal to hunt; however, if you’re well prepared, it can be an extremely rewarding experience. The season starts with a short, archery-only period from September 5th until the 14th, and generally begins the day after on September 15th and is open until November 29th.
Black bear hunting also has an available season in the Spring into early Summer, open from April 15th up to June 15th. However, make sure to double-check your zone as the Spring general season dates vary slightly depending on where you are in the state.
To hunt or trap wolves, you’ll have to do a little more than some of the other game options on the list. First-timers will have to take and complete a wolf-trapping certification course acknowledged by the state of Montana.
Once you have your certification, the fees for residents and non-residents are pretty reasonable at $10 and $25, respectively. A wolf trapping license allows the trapper to collect up to five wolves.
The season for wolves is split up into three categories: Archery, general, and trapping. Archery runs a bit short, from September 5th to September 14th, while the general season is from September 15th to March 15th.
The trapping season is generally kept to the winter months, around mid-December to mid-February.
Hunting of upland game birds can be a little tricky, depending on what your goal is. Different birds have primary permits that you’ll need to acquire, like the Migratory Bird License or the Upland Game Bird License. Once you have that, you can purchase a permit specifically for different birds, such as Turkeys, Swans, Sandhill Crane, Ducks, Falcons, and others.
Different birds will have different seasons that all fall into Fall and early Winter, so make sure and identify your objective prey, gather the specific permit and note the proper time of year.
The mountain lion is a formidable animal, and the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department won’t issue permits to apprentice hunters.
However, if you’re a skilled hunter, the season has a few options for you. If you plan to hunt alone with a bow then you’re looking at early September through mid-October, with a rifle from mid-October to early December.
If you plan on hunting with the help of hounds, your season starts later, ranging from early December to mid-April.
Montana is a gorgeous state full of wildlife and opportunities for hunters. Ensure that you have all of the permits you’ll need and follow the limitations or regulations implemented by the state, or else you’ll find yourself paying hefty fines.
Also, keep in mind, especially if you plan on hunting in more remote areas, to bring everything you need. Safety equipment and food will not be provided or easily accessible, so pack more than you think you’ll need. Alcohol is allowed in hunting zones, but it’s highly urged that hunters practice responsible drinking and never hunt while under the influence.