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2023 elk hunting regs in Montana

by Warren Illi
| March 30, 2023 12:00 AM

Montana is usually ranked as one of America’s best elk hunting states. Deer, antelope, mountain sheep, game birds and numerous other wildlife species are the annual targets of over 100,000 Montana hunters. But no one would probably argue with me when I say that elk are the king of Montana big game species and the wild critter annually sought by most Montana hunters.

When hunters meet after the fall hunting season, usually the opening comment is, “did you get your elk this year?”

Montana is one of only a few states where resident hunters can buy an “across the counter” general elk hunting license. Not only can most residents buy a general elk hunting license, but Montana has millions of acres of public land which are accessible for elk hunting. Elk hunting opportunities abound in Montana. The really dedicated Montana elk hunter is now busy reviewing the 2023 deer, elk and antelope hunting regulations, trying to find a hunting district with special elk hunting permits that give the hunter a better chance of finding and bagging a big bull elk or good eating cow elk. You can get a hard copy of these regulations from any FWP office or hunting license vendor. These regulations are also available on-line.

An interesting and strange aspect of hunting in Montana is that before buying an elk license, you must first buy an $8 conservation license. That conservation license does not allow the purchaser to hunt or fish for any critter. It just allows the buyer to buy another license. After buying your conservation license, before hunting, you must now buy a base hunting license for $10. Again, after buying both the conservation license and base hunting license, you still can’t legally hunt anything. Finally, with a conservation license and base hunting license in hand, the hunter can spend another $20 to buy a general elk license.

Before proceeding with getting the required permits and licenses, you need to understand the difference between a general elk license and elk permit. A general elk license allows you to harvest an elk critter in accordance with the general elk hunting rules for that elk hunting district. Frequently those rules only allow the shooting of a mature trophy brow-tined bull elk. That is the goal of most elk hunters, but those type of elk are usually few in number.

To increase the probability of taking home some good eating elk meat, the FWP allows the harvest of some cow elk. The taking or killing of cow elk are allowed for those hunters who applied for and received a “cow permit or cow tag.” So, having an elk permit usually allows for the selection of a broader array of elk bulls, cows or calves. In a few hunting districts, where elk are over the population target, some hunting districts allow the taking of a second or third elk with a “B” elk license.

So, with hundreds of elk hunting districts in Montana, bull and cow seasons, outfitter sponsored licenses, several types of hunting weapons choices (rifle, archery equipment or muzzle loader) and various opening dates, the array of opportunities for elk hunting are almost mind-numbing. That’s why the really dedicated Montana elk hunter will be spending many hours carefully reviewing the hundreds or thousands of elk hunting opportunities in Montana.

Of utmost importance for elk hunters is to get your special elk hunting applications in the mail or applied for on-line by April 1. That date is only two days from now. Don’t procrastinate.

An important part of your review of elk hunting options, are found on pages 43 and 44 of the elk regulations. These pages have the drawing statistics, from last year, for various kinds of licenses and permits. Those statistics will tell you the likelihood of getting the license or permit you desire. In many cases, the applications for special licenses and permits are grossly over-subscribed. So, you have to balance your elk hunting desires with the reality of successfully drawing the required permit.

A new feature this year is the inclusion of a quota ranges for some species and hunting districts. This gives the hunter an idea of how many special tags may or may not be issued based on the severity of winter and other game population conditions that may affect game population levels and allowable harvest levels.

If you are electronically inclined, you can get electronic game tags and tag your game animal electronically, through you cellphone. Don’t ask me how all that works. This new system may be OK for the younger generation or digitally inclined, but for older hunters like myself, I’ll stick with old-fashioned, but familiar paper game licenses and tags.

The preceding comments about the game regulations are my understanding of the regulations. You need to read the regulations thoroughly and make your own determinations. If you have any questions, call the helpful ladies at the front desk at the FWP office in Kalispell.