Montana’s elk hunters should experience some good hunting this year, especially in parts of western and central Montana, according to Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife section chief. FWP biologists annually survey the state’s elk populations post hunting season and again in spring after elk calves are born.
“Elk numbers continue to be up in many portions of the state, especially in parts of western and central Montana,” said Quentin Kujala, FWP fish and wildlife division wildlife section chief. “Recent winters have been long and cold, but not rough enough to affect elk populations in general.”
In other areas with grizzly bear and wolves and high predator to prey ratios, including the Northern Yellowstone, Gallatin Canyon, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Madison-Firehole areas, elk numbers have declined. Areas with lower predator to prey ratios continue to host stable or growing elk populations.
“Hunters are going to see liberal hunting opportunities in parts of western and central Montana with the exception of some isolated areas. If the weather works in hunters' favor, and they do some advance work to gain access where it's needed, we should see a good harvest," Kujala said.
"Good year-round precipitation in the past two years has worked in elk hunters' favor," Kujala said. "The abundant grass and vegetation increases growth and promotes over winter survival of elk--while increasing the odds of getting some fall snow to move elk to lower elevations where hunters can more easily track them."
Hunters may obtain a free Hunting Access guide from the FWP region where they plan to hunt and use FWP's hunter tool kit on the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov, on the hunter access page.
Here is an overview of 2011 elk hunting opportunities in the state.
FWP Regions 1 & 2—Western Montana near Kalispell and Missoula
Hunting forecasts are pretty similar to last year in northwestern Montana. Following last year’s long and snowy winter, hunting seasons remain conservative for elk. Age structure for bulls remains good, so hunters should have opportunities to take older aged animals again this year. Hunting access is also good in FWP Region 1, but the habitats are densely forested and relatively steep so hunters should plan accordingly. FWP Region 1 elk surveys show 16 calves per 100 cows, for a stable but possibly declining population.
In FWP Region 2, biologists observed an increase in elk numbers between Missoula and Butte in the spring aerial surveys, and numbers in some of these hunting districts are at record highs. Elk numbers remain below objective west of Missoula, and in parts of the Bitterroot and Blackfoot drainages. It has been an excellent summer for physical and antler growth, and a continued wet weather pattern could mean good snow for hunting.
FWP Regions 3—Southwestern Montana near Bozeman
Elk numbers have declined in a few hunting districts, but generally elk numbers remain good with liberal hunting seasons in effect. Survival of elk calves in their first year appears to be at a higher rate than expected following a long, cold winter and wet spring.
FWP Region 4—Central Montana near Great Falls
Elk are abundant in the region. Numerous opportunities exist for hunters to take antlerless elk. Access, as always, remains an issue in some districts and hunters are reminded to make access arrangements with private landowners before the hunting season begins. Through last winter, FWP observed about 3,200 elk in the Sun River elk herd. The desired objective is 2,500. In hunting district 422, along the Rocky Mountain Front from haystack Butte south to Highway 200, FWP counted about 2,000 elk—well above objective.
FWP Region 5—Southcentral Montana near Billings
Elk populations in south central Montana are healthy and growing this year, FWP biologists say. The numbers are not a harbinger of hunter success, however. In areas where hunter access is good, elk numbers are low. In most areas where access is limited, elk numbers are well above objective.
FWP Region 6—Northeastern Montana near Glasgow
Elk throughout the region appear to be faring well. The only quota reductions this year are a reduction in antlerless elk rifle licenses in hunting district 631—down from 120 licenses to 100; and antlerless elk licenses in hunting district 622 down from 300 to l00. All elk hunting in the Bears Paw Mountains and the Missouri River Breaks is by special permits awarded in an annual drawing. Elk densities are very low in the general-season hunting area north of U.S. Highway 2.
FWP Regions 7—Southeastern Montana near Miles City
Generally elk populations in the region are robust. The management goal is to maintain elk populations at a reasonable level to address landowner concerns and balance growing populations with available habitat. Elk populations continue to expand across the region. South of Interstate 94 and hunting district 701, antlerless elk can be harvested by rifle hunters with a general elk license, except in the Custer National Forest. In hunting district 703, any elk can be harvested with a general elk license. The remaining elk hunting opportunities in this region are by permit only.
Montana's general elk season is Oct. 22 – Nov. 27. For details on the season, see the 2011 Montana deer and elk regulations available on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov on the Hunting tab.