2009 Elk Hunting Outlook

Montana has more than 135,000 elk and thousands of hopeful hunters making plans for an elk hunt. This could be an exceptional year for elk hunting if the precipitation the state has seen this summer continues in the form of snow. Montana’s general elk hunting season opens Oct. 25.

“Hunters are going to see very healthy populations of elk and liberal hunting opportunities. If the weather works in hunters’ favor, and they do some advance work to gain access where it’s needed, plenty of elk are potentially available for harvest,” said Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife management section chief.

As in the past couple of years, all eyes will be on the weather, make sure you don’t get caught out in the cold by visiting SurvivalCooking to get all your gear so you’re prepared for the worst should the need arise.

Montana’s mild winters and late snows the past several years have contributed to lower elk harvests in some areas of the state, despite additional elk-hunting permits and more liberal seasons.

“This has been an unusually good year for precipitation in much of the state,” Kujala said. “We’re all hoping it leans toward snow and in the hunters’ favor this fall.”

Hunters may obtain a free Hunting Access guide from the FWP region where they plan to hunt and access FWP’s hunter tool kit on the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov , on the hunter access page.

Here is an overview of 2009 elk hunting opportunities in the state.

Regions 1 & 2—Western Montana

In FWP Region 1, near Kalispell, elk populations are stable to declining in some areas. Spring surveys revealed the regional cow/calf ratio is down from last year in part due to winter conditions. Over 2,300 elk were surveyed this spring. Hot spots for elk in northwestern Montana include the mountainous areas of the lower Clark Fork Valley , Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge area of the Purcell Mountains and the North Fork of the Flathead River.

In FWP Region 2, biologists observed healthy elk numbers in the eastern half of the region. Elk numbers were lower than expected south and west of Missoula. A cold, snowy fall should help hunters to a good harvest of bulls, while permits for antlerless elk have been reduced overall.

Regions 3—Southwestern Montana

Elk hunting in all of FWP Region 3 in the Bozeman area should be good, with two exceptions: hunter success may be low in Hunting District 310 in the Upper Gallatin and Hunting District 313 in the Gardiner area. Elk populations in those two districts have declined in recent years. In many other FWP Region 3 districts, hunting opportunities are liberal with five weeks of brow-tined and antlerless hunting, as well as A9 licenses available. Hunters should have good success in the Gravelly and Tobacco Root mountains, the Yellowstone area, and Shields Valley.

Region 4—Central Montana

Elk populations in FWP Region 4, in north central Montana near Great Falls, remain strong throughout the region. There is also a good distribution of older age animals. As always, FWP urges hunters to make their access arrangements well before they plan to hunt.

Region 5—South-central Montana

In FWP Region 5, in the Billings area, spring population surveys indicated that elk numbers are near to well above population objectives. Where public access is readily available, elk numbers are at or below population objectives. A hunter’s biggest challenge in some cases will be to obtain access to hunt on private land. Hunters are strongly urged to plan ahead to make access arrangements well before the season begins.

Regions 6—Northeastern Montana

In some areas of the Missouri River Breaks and Bears Paw Mountains, in FWP Region 6, elk numbers remain at or above the management objectives set in the statewide elk management plan. All elk hunting is by special permits, but those hunters who drew permits should find abundant elk in core habitats. In the general-season elk hunting area north of U.S. Highway 2 in FWP Region 6, elk densities are very low.

Regions 7—Southeastern Montana

Elk populations are building in the Missouri Breaks and the southern portions of FWP Region 7. Winter conditions were difficult for some species, but elk seemed to have a good winter survival rate. In a 2008 winter post-season survey, the Missouri Breaks found 36 bulls for every 100 cows. Of the bulls, 42 percent were yearling and 58 percent of the remaining bulls were six point or better. A late winter elk survey in the Custer National Forest, in the Ashland Ranger District, found 325 elk with 30 bulls to 100 cows and 36 calves to 100 cows. Access to private land should be arranged well in advance of the hunt and permission may be difficult to obtain.

Montana’s elk season closes Nov. 29. For details on the season, see the 2009 Montana deer and elk regualtions available on the FWP web site under Hunting, Hunting Regulations , and at FWP offices and license providers.

For more information about hunting elk in Montana, visit FWP’s Deer, Elk & Antelope Hunting Guide and Montana’s online Animal Field Guide.

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