This past winter, Montana's Fish & Wildlife Commission approved elk shoulder seasons in 43 hunting districts for the 2016/2017 hunting season with the primary purpose being to reduce elk populations in areas that are over population objective as outlined in the Montana Elk Management Plan. Montana law (MCA 87-1-323) requires Fish, Wildlife & Parks to manage elk populations to objective, and both Gov. Steve Bullock and our own Fish & Wildlife Commission have tasked FWP officials with addressing these concerns.
A shoulder season is a firearms season that occurs outside the 5-week general firearms and archery seasons. While most shoulder seasons focus on antlerless elk harvest on private land and are not intended to replace or reduce harvest during the existing archery or 5-week general firearms seasons, a few are meant to address problematic distribution of elk.
Shoulder seasons will vary in timing and function from hunting district to hunting district. In some districts the shoulder seasons will start as early as Aug. 15 and go as late as Feb. 15. In some areas, the shoulder season will occur at the same time as the archery season, while in others it will not include the archery only season. Where a shoulder season and archery season occur at the same time, the shoulder season will mostly be limited to private land.
Shoulder season success will depend on landowners, hunters and FWP working closely together in a cooperative and respectful fashion.
Key points for hunters to remember:
- Season timing and lengths will be tailored to each hunting district, so know your regulations.
- Shoulder seasons will be focused on antlerless elk found primarily on private land.
- Hunters can typically use their general season elk license, antlerless elk permit or an elk B license, depending on the hunting district. Hunters need to check the regulations for each district.
- Hunters should start early establishing contacts and building relationships with landowners who may offer access for shoulder season hunts.