Montana boasts over 30 million acres of state and federal lands, nearly one third of the state. Much of that land provides excellent hunting opportunities. However, like all good hunting ground, finding a productive area that is legally accessible takes some effort. At a minimum you will need a good set of maps and some time to spend for scouting to determine available habitat and game populations. Use rules and restrictions on public lands differ depending on the managing agency.
School Trust Lands
There are 5.5 million acres of state school trust lands in Montana. These lands are managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) with revenue collected from the use of these lands used to support Montana Schools. All hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities that occur on state school trust land require possession of a State Recreational Use License which is available from all license agents where hunting and fishing licenses are sold. BLM and Forest Service maps are typically the best source for identifying state school trust land.
Remember, only those state lands that are legally accessible via a public road, navigable river, or adjacent federal lands are available for hunting without permission from the adjacent landowner. You must have permission from the landowner before crossing private land to access state or federal lands.
State Wildlife Management Areas
Montana Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) are owned and managed by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and provide free public hunting opportunities statewide. All WMAs have limitations on the available season of use. Some areas allow camping and motorized use is restricted to designated routes. Hunting on WMAs is open to all resident and nonresident hunters with a valid hunting license and/or permit. Purchase of the State Recreational Use License is not required to recreate at these sites. Contact the appropriate regional office for specific information about a particular area.
Fishing Access Sites
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks owns and manages Fishing Access Sites (FAS) statewide. Generally, FASs provide stream or lake access only. Some sites also allow hunting. You should contact the appropriate FWP Regional Office to check on restrictions before hunting at an FAS.
Montana Department of Corrections
The Montana State Prison Ranch offers big game and bird hunting on 23,000 acres of land managed by the Department of Corrections at Warm Springs near Deer Lodge. For additional information on area restrictions and a detailed map, contact FWP Region 2 Headquarters at (406) 542-5530.
National Forest Lands
National forests in Montana comprise nearly 16 million acres. Most national forest lands that are legally accessible via a public road, navigable waterway, or adjacent state or federal land are open to hunting. Land use restrictions do apply to some areas so its always a good idea to check in with the local Ranger District Office. Individuals must have permission from the landowner to cross adjacent private land to hunt on National Forest Lands. National forest maps are available from all Forest Service District Offices, or by contacting Forest Service Northern Region Office at (406) 329-3511.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 8 million acres of mostly range land and some forested land across the state. Most BLM lands that are legally accessible via a public road, navigable waterway, or adjacent state or federal land are open to hunting. You must have permission from the landowner to cross adjacent private land to hunt on BLM land. The BLM sells maps that identify BLM land. Maps are available from all BLM Area Offices, and by contacting the BLM State Office in Billings at (406) 896-5004.
National Refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages ten national wildlife refuges in Montana most of which allow hunting during some portion of the season. USFWS also oversees hundreds of waterfowl production areas that provide waterfowl, upland bird, and limited big game hunting opportunities. Hunting opportunities on wildlife refuges are generally quite restrictive and in some cases prohibited altogether. You should contact refuge personnel before hunting on any national wildlife refuge. For general information on the National Wildlife Refuge System in Montana, contact the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Lewistown at (406) 538-8706 or follow this link.
US Bureau of Reclamation Lands
The US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) administers approximately 200,000 acres of land and 100,000 acres of surface water in Montana. Where there is legal public access, BOR managed land is open to hunting, fishing and other recreational activity. Motorized travel is restricted to existing roads.
Access Montana was created to improve access to state and federal lands and to help reduce the conflicts that arise when sportsmen utilize public lands. Program funding is used for agreements that provide access corridors to public lands, land owner incentives like fencing, cattle guards, and water crossings on access routes, signing to indicate public/private land boundaries, and increased patrolling where appropriate. FWP relies on a cooperative approach that considers the needs of landowners, sportsmen, and land managers to resolve conflicts over access to state and federal lands.
Report Public Land Access Conflicts ( 370 KB) - Download a form to report problems involving public lands access.