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Commission Approves Expanded Shoulder Season Opportunities


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

At its Feb. 11 meeting, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved elk shoulder seasons in 43 hunting districts for the 2016/2017 hunting season. Final information on these shoulder seasons will be available online by the end of February and at all license providers in mid-March in the 2016 Deer, Elk and Antelope Hunting regulations.

A shoulder season is a firearms season that occurs outside the 5-week general firearms season. They focus on antlerless elk harvest primarily on private land and are not intended to replace or reduce harvest during the existing archery only and 5-week general firearms seasons.

Generally, the shoulder seasons will be in areas where elk populations are significantly and chronically over objective as outlined in Montana’s Elk Management Plan.

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 only season, while in others it will be split to avoid conflict between shoulder season hunters and archers. Where a shoulder season and archery only season occur at the same time, the shoulder season will mostly be limited to private land.

Shoulder seasons have drawn a tremendous amount of interest from hunters and landowners alike. The Commission considered hundreds of comments and tailored the upcoming shoulder season opportunities to best address concerns and needs in each hunting district.

Last October, before any shoulder seasons were considered or adopted, the Commission adopted guidelines for performance-based shoulder seasons. These guidelines have 11 fundamental objectives of shoulder seasons as well as clear performance criteria to evaluate not only their effectiveness, but to make sure that adequate harvest of both bulls and cows occurs during the general 5-week season. If the performance criteria are not met after three years the shoulder season would not be proposed to continue. In order for shoulder seasons to work at reducing elk everybody has to pitch in – FWP, sportsmen, landowners, everyone.

A trial run of shoulder seasons was done in 5 hunting districts in central Montana following the 2015 general season and demonstrated initial success in harvesting elk, providing more opportunity for hunters, and keeping wintering elk herds from congregating on private land. A more comprehensive review will occur later this spring and summer after harvest estimates are complete.

Some key points for hunters to remember as they consider hunting during an upcoming shoulder seasons:

  • Season timing and lengths will be tailored to each hunting district, so know your regulations.
  • They’ll primarily be focused on antlerless elk found on private land.
  • Hunters can typically use their general season elk license, antlerless elk permit or an elk B license, depending on hunting district.
  • Hunters should start early in the year in establishing contacts and building relationships with landowners who may offer access for shoulder season hunts.