The aptly-named “Big Sky State” is on the top of many hunters’ bucket lists, and for good reason. Home to most Western big game species, Montana offers opportunities for both resident and nonresident hunters.
For elk and deer, Montana issues Big Game “Combo” tags that are valid for large parts of the state and have regional or unit by unit regulations that can differ slightly. At present these tags can be drawn by nonresidents every two to three years (at worst), and are over the counter for residents.
The eastern portions of Montana contain a significant amount of private lands. As always, be sure to research public land access before deciding where to hunt/apply. There are significant portions of western Montana that are home to grizzly bears and wolves. In these areas it is important to be bear aware and to understand what impact wolves might have on local big game habits and tendencies.
Note: As of January 24, 2023, the new 2023 Montana regs, season dates and hunt codes have not yet been published (Montana FWP Hunting Regulations). The big game application period typically begins around March 1 and ends April 1, with draw results available in mid-April (still tentative for 2023 as of January 24).
Hunters may apply for tags with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks here.
Huntin’ Fool’s Montana page is an excellent, updated resource for ongoing Montana draw changes.
Montana Draw Process FAQs
Application Dates and Deadlines: Huntin’ Fool lines out Montana dates and deadlines.
Free for onX Elite members, Hunt Reminder’s Montana page is also an excellent resource for timely application season reminders.
Hunting license and species costs for tags usually include:
- Application Fee
- Hunting License Fee to apply (usually need a qualifying license before you can apply)
- Species Fee (This is what you pay for the animal you want to hunt. Some you pay upfront at application, some you pay for once you get the tag.)
- Points-Only fee (fees for people just buying points and not actually applying for a hunt)
- For elk and deer, Montana has two primary license types that each use a different point system.
- There are General Deer, General Elk, and General Deer/Elk combo licenses, commonly referred to as General tags.
- You need a General tag to hunt elk or deer in Montana.
- For nonresidents, the General tag drawing uses a Preference Point system.
- Residents can buy a General tag over the counter.
- The nonresident General tag drawing has some complexity and can be confusing; read this for a full description of how it works.
- There are also Permits. Permits are limited entry tags for a specific unit or units. There are elk and deer permits that you can apply for, as well as permits for all other big game species.
- The drawing for Permits in Montana uses an optional Bonus Point system.
- Bonus Points are like raffle tickets; the more you have, the more “chances” you have in the draw.
- You get one chance for your current application, and then your current Bonus Point total is squared and you get that many more chances in the drawing (so with 4 points, you’d get 17 chances, 1 + [4*4]).
- If you apply for a tag and are unsuccessful, you will be awarded a Bonus Point for that species if you paid the optional Bonus Point fee at the time of your application.
- Or you can also choose to buy a Bonus Point Only each year during a separate application period to accumulate Bonus Points.
- If you draw your first choice on a limited-entry permit application your Bonus Point total will be purged to zero for that species.
- For limited entry elk, deer and antelope permits, up to 10% of the total tags for each hunt code can be issued to nonresidents.
- For moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats, up to 10% of the total tags in each respective region can be issued to nonresidents.
- Residents and nonresidents are all in the same random drawing, where each applicant’s Bonus Point total is applied when determining your total number of “chances.”
- Once the 10% nonresident quota max is hit, no further nonresident tags will be issued for that hunt code or region.
- Access the onX Complete Package for Western Application Research
- Log Into Toprut Today to Start Your 2023 Application Season
- View Montana Hunting Regulations Here
- Apply Here for Your Montana Hunting Tags
- Read About Montana Hunting Access Here
- Read Montana Hunting News and Updates Here
Toprut’s Top Three State Application Tips
- If you’re new to applying in Montana and a nonresident, be aware that 25% of all Big Game combo tags are issued to applicants with no preference points. Participating in the preference point system is optional, and at present applicants with zero points actually have better drawing odds than those applicants with one point.
- Montana’s application process can be confusing and easily misunderstood. If you’re new to it, call Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to make sure you understand the process. And don’t wait; do it early in the application period to avoid the last minute rush. The application period for elk and deer typically begins in late February and ends April 1st.
- Bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat tags are generally very difficult to draw anywhere. Consider steering clear of the very hardest to draw hunts and focus on the lower two-thirds if you want to increase your chances of drawing in your lifetime. It may not seem like a big difference between .10 % odds and .05% odds, but consider that is actually one in 1000 against one in 2000. If you’re late to the game in accumulating bonus points, you’ll need all the luck you can get to overcome the odds.
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