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2024 Montana hunting regulations

by Warren Illi
| March 7, 2024 12:00 AM

The much-awaited 2024 deer, elk and antelope hunting regulations are out for public review and implementation. This is one of Montana’s most popular publications, with 270,000 copies printed each year.

As usual each year, the new hunting regulations are more complex than last year. I recall that three years ago, the new Fish, Wildlife and Parks director stated a goal of simplifying and shortening these annual hunting regulations. I applauded his goal. Was he successful? 

Last year those regulations were 143 pages long. This year, those same hunting regulations include 151 pages. I can remember these similar hunting regulations in the 1980s were less than 20 pages. 

As much as I find these regulations almost overwhelming, I don’t have any suggestions for shortening them.  I feel lucky that I have been reading these regulations for the last 50 years, so at least I have some idea on how to wade through them. I pity the new Montana resident hunter that is starting from scratch. 

In spite of the complexity of these hunting regulations, you need to understand them if you want to apply for the thousands of special deer, elk and antelope licenses and permits in the various hundred or so statewide hunting districts. One aspect of the regulations you need to understand is the difference between a special license and a permit. In Montana, a hunter can shoot only one buck deer a year, using what is generally referred to as an “A” tag. That “A” tag can be used in almost all hunting districts to harvest a deer.

Special licenses, frequently referred to as “B” tags, allow hunters to take additional deer in a specific hunting district. A permit doesn’t allow the hunter to take an additional animal, but allows the hunter a broader range of animals to hunt, say killing a doe in a hunting district that only permits most hunters to harvest buck deer.  

Each year I buy special licenses or “B” tags, which allow me to harvest an extra mule deer or whitetail doe or two in my favorite hunting district. Each “B” tag allows the harvest of one extra deer. My general deer license, otherwise known as my “A” deer tag, allows me to harvest any mule deer or whitetail deer, male or female in that hunting district. My additional “B” tags allow me to harvest additional deer does, but only in a specific hunting district. These extra doe tags are usually issued in areas with excess deer and low hunting pressure. 

Page 43 of these hunting regulations is a key page because it provides drawing statistics from last year. Those statistics list all of the special hunts, how many special tags were issued, number of applicants for those tags and the percent of successful applicants. That page is a very valuable addition to the hunting regulations.  

One major change I noticed this year is that some hunting districts in Eastern Montana plan to issue the normal number of extra doe tags, or B tags for mule deer or whitetail deer. But this year those extra tags are good only on private land. I think this reflects the general decline in the general mule deer population throughout much of Montana over the last few years. 

It also reflects the really tough winter last year when the fawn crop last spring was poor. Issuing limited doe tags for private land is probably needed to satisfy farmers and ranchers. Most farmers I know don’t mind a few deer gobbling up the hay they put out for their cattle, but when the few deer become a hundred or more, that cannot be tolerated. Hay is expensive!

This year’s regulations also express probable extra B tags in broad ranges such as FWP will issue 300-1,000 extra tags in a particular hunting district. This is designed to give wildlife managers some flexibility to issue more or fewer tags depending upon the severity of this winter. Keep in mind these hunting regulations went to the printer in late fall of last year. Wildlife managers didn’t know if the winter would be severe like last year or open like this year.

Montana offers a lot of world class hunting with a vast array of hunting opportunities for many species of wildlife living in rugged roadless mountain terrain to open prairie environments. Montana hunting is great, but requires a thorough knowledge of the hunting regulations. In the next few weeks, many hunters will meet with their hunting buddies, tip a few adult beverages, recall the successes of prior year hunts and plan for this coming fall hunting season. These are fun gatherings and part of the comradery of hunting. 

Lastly, you need to read these hunting regulations yourself. Make your own judgment as to what will work for you. My comments are just that, not official in any way. These hunting regulations are available in both hard copies from FWP headquarters on Meridian Road or license dealers or online. Remember that applications for many special licenses and tags are due by April 1. Don’t procrastinate.