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2013 Elk Hunting Outlook


Friday, September 20, 2013

For elk hunters think snow and more snow. Montana's general, five-week long, elk hunting season opens Oct. 26.

Montana's elk populations are in good shape—even as predation by wolves has contributed to some depressed elk populations in parts of western and southwestern Montana. Once again this season, Montana hunters will pursue elk under some very favorable regulations but, as ever, the weather will play a big part in hunter success. With some good old fashioned cold and snow it could be a banner year for elk.

Even if you didn't draw a special permit this year, remember Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for elk with just a general hunting license.

Depending on the hunting district regulations hunters can pursue brow-tined bull elk, spike bull elk, either-sex elk, or antlerless elk. Check out FWP's general license "cheat sheet" online at Click "General License Cheat Sheet" for details on all of Montana's general license fall hunting seasons, regulations, and specific season dates by hunting district.

For more information on elk hunting in Montana, visit FWP's website at, click "Hunting" then click Hunting Guide.

Here's a regional rundown on what elk hunters can expect this season.

Region 1—Northwestern Montana

  • Elk numbers remain stable and elk hunters should find populations similar to what they have seen for the past few years. Spring surveys across the region showed good numbers with calf recruitment slightly below average but better than it was in 2008 and 2009. Elk numbers in the backcountry districts, hunting districts 150 and 151, have been stable since 2008, and calf recruitment among elk that winter in the South Fork of the Flathead has been gradually increasing for the past five years. Elk numbers in the lower Clark Fork area, the region’s best elk producer, have been stable with good calf and bull numbers seen during spring surveys.

Region 2—Western Montana

  • Elk numbers are generally above the long-term average but the distribution and trend of elk populations raises concerns for the future. Calf production and survival is low in several districts along the border with Idaho and adjoining the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas, where opportunities to hunt antlerless elk are sharply reduced. A special permit is required to hunt bull elk in hunting districts 250 and 270 (Upper Bitterroot) to allow bull numbers to rebound. Elk numbers generally remain high on private lands located east of Missoula, but calf survival was low.

Region 3—Southwestern Montana

  • Region wide, hunters will likely see roughly the same amount of elk they did last year in southwestern Montana. Overall elk numbers, however, are slightly increasing. As with last year, weather will play a big role in harvest success. The areas seeing highest numbers remain the area around Dillon, the Pioneer Mountains, and the Shields Valley and Helena area—although access may be more difficult in the Shields Valley and Helena areas. Elsewhere, the elk population in the Elkhorns appears stable, while the Upper Gallatin and Paradise Valley are starting to see some stabilization. Meanwhile, the number of elk in the Gravelly Range remains about the same as last year.

Region 4—Central Montana

  • Elk populations remain robust. The biggest challenge for hunters, whether along the Rocky Mountain Front, central Montana's island mountain ranges, or in the Missouri River Breaks continues to be finding access.

Regions 5 — South Central Montana

  • Elk populations are healthy, growing and at historically high levels. The numbers, however, won't always mean hunter success. In areas where hunter access is good, elk numbers are low. In most areas where public hunter access is limited, elk numbers are well above FWP's elk management objectives.

Region 6—Northeastern Montana

  • Elk numbers are at or above management objectives in most hunting districts. All elk hunting in the Bears Paw Mountains and the Missouri River Breaks is by special permits awarded via the annual drawing. Elk in these areas are most often found in core-habitat areas a mile or more from active roads and other human activity. Hunters should note that elk densities are very low in the general-season hunting area north of U.S. Highway 2.

Region 7—Southeastern Montana

  • While not typically a hot spot destination, outside of the Missouri Breaks, elk here are primarily found on private land. While elk populations are above management objectives in all hunting districts, public hunting access is limited.