The Best Elk Hunting in Montana – A Guide


Montana is one of the most popular places for elk hunting. With elk populations that exceed 150,000 animals throughout the state, it is a prime place to consider an elk hunting vacation. However, there are certain things to consider before planning your elk hunting in Montana trip.

Each state that allows hunting of elk and other game animals has its own rules and regulations that are designed to protect animal populations and ensure that hunting activities are safe for both hunters and the ecosystem.

Like other states, elk hunting in Montana carries its own rules and regulations for hunting game animals, and understanding these rules will make it easier to plan a hunting trip.

If you are considering elk hunting in Montana, it is good to remember that just because you have a license and permit, and have all the plans in place, you may not actually take an animal.

So, it is a good idea to manage your expectations. In some more popular hunting spots, the rate of success is only about 2%, so be prepared to come home empty-handed.

However, if you are successful, Montana has the potential for taking some massive, trophy-worthy bull elk. If you’re patient and well prepared, your chance of success is good.

Elk Hunting in Montana – A Guide

Northwest Montana is where you will find the best Elk Hunting under Big Sky Country. Combine this with the high success rate for hunters, 17.4 success rate as reported by FWP, and it is easy to see why hunting in Montana is so desirable- there are over 132 outfitters in the state with many offering hunting trips.

winter bull elk standing

When is the Montana Elk Hunting Season?

It is important to understand the hunting season for each game animal that you are interested in collecting, no matter which state you visit. Hunting game animals outside of their designated hunting seasons is considered poaching and can land you in hot water.

Hunting for elk in Montana is no different, and you should be well aware of their hunting seasons and limitations. Each year Montana puts out a complete booklet of rules and regulations for the antelope, deer, and elk seasons. You should read this before you plan your trip.

In Montana, deer and elk season run at the same time. This may not be the case in other states. In 2022 the elk hunting season is as follows:

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Archery Season runs from September 3 – October 16, Youth Season (deer only) from October 20th to the 21st, General (rifle and archery) from October 22 until November 27, and Muzzleloader runs from December 10 – 18.

For Backcountry (Districts 150, 280, 316), Archery runs September 3 – 14 while General hunting runs September 15 – November 27.

What is the Best Time to go Elk Hunting in Montana?

Montana elk season is pretty robust, running longer than in neighboring states like Colorado and Wyoming. So, there really isn’t a bad time within Montana’s elk hunting season.

However, if you are looking for the best chance of taking an animal under your license, experienced hunters suggest that during the first few weeks of the general season. As such, the entirety of the archery season offers the first chance to hunt for elk in Montana.

There are also shoulder seasons for Montana elk hunting, and these may give you an even better opportunity to snag a great elk. Shoulder seasons and their regulations change each year, so make sure you know when and where you can hunt for elk during the shoulder seasons.

herd rocky mountain elk cervus canadensis

What is the Difference Between a License and Permit?

In order to hunt in Montana, you will need both a hunting license and a permit. They are two different things, and without one or the other, you cannot legally hunt for elk in Montana.

The first thing you need to get to elk hunting in Montana is a license. The license gives you the legal right to hunt and kill an elk in the state of Montana. There are different licenses for residents, non-residents, youth, disabled, and even former residents. Knowing what you need is the first step to hunting in Montana.

Once you have a hunting license in Montana, you will need to apply for an elk permit. The permit allows you to hunt in a particular area of the state. The state is divided into numerous hunting areas.

You’ll need to know which areas you want to hunt in and apply for those locations. Once you have your permit, remember, that hunting outside of the designated area of your permit is illegal and can result in serious consequences.

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How do Non-Residents Get an Elk License?

If you are planning a hunting trip to Montana to hunt elk, it is important that you understand the process for acquiring a hunting license for non-residents of Montana. Montana residents can buy a license from a variety of locations throughout the state, so long as they are available.

However, that is not the case for non-residents. If you do not live in Montana and would like to hunt for elk, you will need to apply for a license.

Each year Montana issues a limited number of non-resident elk licenses through a lottery system. To have your name added to the lottery, you will need to submit an application to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, by March 1 of each year.

2022 Elk Hunting In Montana Rates for Non-Residents

Montana residents can buy their Elk licenses over the counter at a reduced fee of $10-$20. For non-residents, you can check the 2022 elk-hunting rates below.

Please note, that all combination license prices include the required Base Hunting License, Conservation License, Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass, and Application Fees.

  • Licenses & Permits Fee
    • Big Game Combination License (Elk & Deer) – $1,145.50
    • Elk Combination License – $971.50
    • Youth Big Game Combination License – $584
    • Youth Elk Combination License – $497
    • Special Elk Permit Application – $9
    • Bow and Arrow License – (mandatory for all archery hunts) $10
    • Preference Point Fee for Combination License (optional) – $100
    • Outfitter Preference Point Fee for Combination License (optional but must hunt with an outfitter) – $100
    • Bonus Point Fee per Species (optional) – $20

Explaining the Draw System for Elk Hunting in Montana

The draw system for elk hunting in Montana is considered to be one of the more complex across all the states, draw allocation, point system, application choices, combination licenses, limited entry draw, application fees, party applications, and points only period all need to be taken into consideration.

To better understand the system, we recommend checking out the video below by magazine and hunter networking site Huntin’ Fool before applying through Montana Fish and Wildlife Parks.

Where is the Best Place to Hunt Elk in Montana?

Most of Montana’s elk populations reside in the western and southwestern parts of the state. Hunters acquiring permits for units in these parts of the state tend to be more successful, simply due to the number of elk available.

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The west and southwest parts of the state are also the most popular for permit applications, so your chances of getting a permit in these areas are lower.

If you don’t mind doing a little work and want to hunt where there are plenty of elk but not so many hunters, consider applying for permits in units on the eastern half of the state.

Are There Places in Montana Where Hunting is Not Allowed?

There are a number of places in Montana where you are not allowed to hunt for any game animals, including elk.

In general, these areas are the state’s two national parks (Glacier and Yellowstone), and all the tribal reservations in the state. If your permit borders one of these areas, make sure you are well aware of the boundaries.

How Many Elk Can Be Taken with a General License and Permit?

The general elk license for both residents and non-residents will allow you to harvest one elk per year.

However, you may be able to harvest one additional animal if you can acquire a Montana “B” hunting license. This license allows you to harvest one elk without antlers on particular management units within the state.

These units change from year to year. If you want to try to get a “B” license, you will need to know where you are allowed to hunt.

Beware of Predators!

Montana is home to some of the largest and most dangerous predator animals in the United States. Each year elk hunters cross paths with grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and mountain lions.

These animals are less interested in you than they are in the carcass of the elk you’ve killed.

Grizzlies cause the most problems in Montana, with hunters and guides being attacked, harassed, mauled, or killed by grizzly bears each year.

You should know how to be safe and avoid encounters with grizzly bears and other predatory wildlife if you are planning an elk hunting trip to Montana.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>