In a significant change, elk hunters this fall will have the opportunity in some hunting districts to shoot an antlerless elk, cow or calf, with their regular elk hunting licenses.
In most cases, hunters previously needed to apply for an antlerless elk permit if they wanted to bring home a cow elk.
“It’s been decades since hunters have had opportunities to shoot antlerless elk like they’ll have this season,” says Gary Hammond, management bureau chief of the Montana FWP Wildlife Division. “And ranchers and farmers will get relief in areas of the state where numbers exceed population objectives.”
The new regulations, which apply mainly to southwestern Montana, are part of the state’s new adaptive harvest management (AHM) strategy for elk. Under AHM, wildlife managers set population objectives for Montana’s 44 elk management units by balancing the desires of hunters (who usually want more elk) and landowners (who usually want fewer), while factoring in habitat conditions.
FWP’s traditional approach of managing elk through permits began to fall short in certain areas as a series of mild winters, coupled with the increasing ability of elk to find refuge in areas off-limits to public hunting, allowed the animals to stay beyond the reach of many hunters.
“We’ve increased the number of antlerless permits and still haven’t been able to increase harvest,” said Ken Hamlin, FWP’s elk research biologist.
FWP wildlife officials believe that by creating a larger pool of hunters with the option of taking a cow, elk numbers will be reduced, especially in areas where land-owners have severe depredation problems. FWP will carefully and regularly monitor the harvest. The FWP Commission has authority to close down the antlerless portion of the season on 24-hour notice.The new regulation applies primarily in FWP’s Region 3 south of I-90 and in Region 2 in five hunting districts in the Bitterroot Range. The regulation allows hunters to shoot either an antlerless or a bull elk (only brow-tined in some districts). Hunters are urged to read the 2004 Montana hunting regulations for details.