Detailed Hunt Strategy for Deer and Elk in Montana

DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
272
66
Wyoming
Hey guys,
If you have any questions on Montana deer and elk let me know! If you are a current TagHub Elite subscriber you will be able to read my full 5,000 word analysis HERE.
If you are not a TagHub Elite member I will be dropping parts of my Montana Analysis every day for next week or so here in this thread. We are going to be working really hard to build quality content for TagHub that we haven't had the space for in the print journals. This thread will be sharing some of that with the entire forum membership.

As always, feel free to message me here and I will be glad to talk Montana strategies with you.

If you want to upgrade to an Elite membership you can do that HERE. If you have never had a membership to TagHub you can buy an Elite Annual Membership HERE.
 
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DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
272
66
Wyoming
Here's a sneak peek of the article for region 1 of Montana in Taghub. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Region 1

Region 1 comprises the northwest part of the state from the Canadian border south to Missoula and the Flathead Indian Reservation. Elk and deer numbers have been on the decline in most 100 districts largely due to the number of predators. DIY hunting is the most difficult here compared to any other part of the state. Sparse elk populations can be found in all three forks of the Flathead River drainage and headwaters. The Cabinet mountains, Swan Valley and the Bob Marshall Wilderness all hold elk. Perhaps your best bet to harvest an elk in Region 1 is with an outfitter in “the Bob”. These are not trophy hunts as most hunters are looking to just kill a bull but it seems like someone takes a 350 bull every year. Lots of wolves and grizzlies reside in the Bob but the wolves have been hunted hard the past several years so your main foe is the grizzly bear.

The DIY hunting will be a struggle for the first timer on public land in this region. Plan on hiking and more hiking. Find areas above treeline during archery season, glass what you can and chase bugles if possible. This is thick country so glassing isn’t always effective. Be prepared to beat the brush and struggle.

The Flathead River drainages have a lot of alder, mountain maple and other brush that makes navigation difficult. Stick to old logging roads, logging units and ridgelines if you plan on traveling or south and west facing slopes where brush may be a little more sparse. Logging units are often the best feed in really thick country so always check them, especially during rifle season. The Bob Marshall Wilderness portion of the Flathead River system is the best elk habitat.

The Cabinet Mountain area and the far northwest portion of Region 1 is similar to the Flathead River system with plenty of public access and not many animals. Lots of alder, devils club, ferns, and brush that make traveling extremely difficult. Stick to trails and logging roads. Check the burns and alpine during archery season or early in rifle on a year that doesn’t have snow.

The Clark Fork River system offers a little better elk country and there are better numbers in the regions than further north. Logging units are common, as are burned areas, which provide the best elk habitat. There are a high density of predators here as well but the habitat is a little better overall than most of Region 1.

The mule deer in Region 1 are also struggling. High predator numbers and habitat loss are the main factors. Mule deer are browsers so they do best in burns and on south facing slopes where there is decent forage. The Swan Range, Whitefish Range and Mission Range all have mule deer above treeline if you can find suitable habitat. Slides and brushy ridges are the best areas but also concentrate around the burns. Most of Region 1 is general deer except the Mission Range which is by permit only. Finding a 160” type buck is expected but it seems like it’s getting more and more rare to find a mule deer over 180” in Region 1.

Whitetail hunting has also declined tremendously over the last 20 years as well. “The Swan” used to be world famous for the whitetail bucks it would produce but it just doesn’t have the deer it used to. Over-hunting and predators are the suspect here as the best whitetail habitat is down low in logging units. This doesn’t mean you won’t find a buck to shoot on public land but the quality of hunting is just way down.
 

DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
272
66
Wyoming
Here's a sneak peek of the article for region 3 of Montana in Taghub. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Region 3

A lot of folks consider Region 3 the heart of elk country in western Montana. There is a ton of country here that stretches from Idaho to Bozeman and north to Helena. The western part of Region 3 isn’t what it used to be for elk hunting but there are enough elk here to keep things interesting and hunters chasing elk. Hunter pressure is high here and there aren’t really any secrets any more. There are burns, brush holes and steep mountains and basins in this portion of the Pioneers and Big Hole but you will still have to rely on rutting elk to hunt them effectively. There is just not enough open country to glass here and be effective early in the season. Later during rifle season, elk will move down lower and hit some of the bigger parks and agriculture depending on snowfall and hunter pressure.

Farther east to Dillon and Ennis and south to Idaho is all classic elk country with burns, wide open parks and plenty of private land where elk reside. There is still plenty of public land with great elk hunting here as this is where most general tag hunters end up hunting for elk. There is plenty of open country to glass so I recommend bringing some good optics and you’re not only going to have to outsmart highly pressured elk but many many other hunters as well. There are plenty of grizzly bears in the eastern portion of Region 3 but plenty of elk too, so hunting elk in the Madison Valley drainages comes with the challenge of dodging grizzly bears. There is seemingly someone attacked every year in this portion of Region 3 while elk hunting.

North to Whitehall and Helena you have the Tobacco Root and Boulder Mountains that both have decent elk numbers on public, this is a little bit thicker country but it’s classic elk habitat with pines and open parks and plenty of sagebrush. The Elkhorn Mountains are still the most coveted tag in the state (380) and for good reason. There are plenty of bulls here as it is very limited but the time to kill a monster is not during the peak of the rut. After some hunter pressure and the rut kicks in, a lot of the biggest bulls end up down lower on private with the cows. They do also have a general spike season during the archery season, which I find very annoying, dealing with all that unnecessary pressure. The bottom line is if you have the time, this tag is still worth it but I know of a lot of folks in recent years that have ended up killing bulls with their rifles later in November.

The Big Belt Mountains are east of Helena and stretch south into the foothills of the Bridger Range and down to Bozeman. This area is classic elk country but gets a lot of pressure so if you do end up wanting to hunt this region I recommend going with an outfitter. There are plenty to choose from.

From Bozeman south to the Gallatin Range and east to the Absaroka Range is some rugged country. Plenty of public and hunting pressure. Hunting has declined here greatly because of hunter pressure and predators over the past decade. The potential for a big bull is out there but any 6×6 is strong work. Elk numbers are spotty in most of this zone on public land and are not consistent because of hunter pressure. Grizzly bears are thick here so be careful but hunter conflict doesn’t seem as bad as the Madison Valley over the years. Better tempered grizzlies here for some reason? I consider Paradise Valley to be a struggle on public land as most of the elk reside on private property and it’s easy to find yourself hunting private borders because of this. There are plenty of outfitters in the valley and success rates are usually pretty darn good. I spent a lot of time in Paradise Valley hunting and guiding and the deeper you go into the backcountry, the fewer elk there are. Elk live closer to the hay fields on private and the cows even calve in the hay fields by the highway. It’s probably safer right next to the road than up in the hills with all the predators. Grizzly bears, wolves, and lions are very thick in the valley and are always something to contend with.

Deer here are marginal. Most of the areas are general in Region 3 minus special draw in area 300 along the Idaho border and area 312 which is the West Bridger Mountains. Both these areas have declined and just don’t produce the bucks that they used to. I know several hunters that have scoured both of these tags and came up with 160” bucks. Not what I would be satisfied with given how hard these tags are to draw. The rest of Region 3 just has bucks. Nothing special here is the norm but every once in a while you’ll find something bigger. You’re going to find better bucks in the ag fields and of course this is going to be mostly all private property. Whitetails are another opportunity here as well that are pretty thick on the river bottoms and private property access is going to be your best option once again. The Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison all hold deer but the public land that is available is overrun with hunters so it is flat out difficult to find anything of size any more.
 
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DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
272
66
Wyoming
Alright guys, last teaser of the week. Visit Taghub.com for the rest of this article and feel free to email me with questions at dan.p@eastmans.com

Region 7

This emcompasses the southeast portion of the state with Miles City being the epicenter. There is a lot of country here, most of it being open, rolly hills and coulees, with pine stands. Lots of sagebrush and gumbo out here too. This is all great country with a lot of private land and a fair amount of public with plenty of block management available as well. The elk here are thriving and it’s really been growing some big bulls the past 10 years. Bulls have the perfect conditions to grow to be giant. Easy winters, plenty of feed, no predators, and lots of private land to find security on. The elk grow big here and their body sizes are incredible. Rumor has it that the elk were let out of a high fence game farm in the Colstrip area 30 years ago when elk farms became highly regulated. The owner opened his gates and let them out. I also heard that those elk were from British Columbia so that’s where the monstrous bodies come from. Once again this is just a rumor, not fact.

To be successful on a giant bull in the Custer National Forest of southeast Montana you’re going to need private access in the best areas or get super lucky and catch a bull on public land. It’s difficult but guys get it done every year. These elk come and go off public and travel great distances from feeding to bedding areas. The deck really gets shuffled during the rut as bulls travel to find cows. Time is necessary here, allow at least seven days to hunt and just be out there glassing and covering as much of the country as possible. There is enough public land here to have a quality hunt but make sure you have onX as well as there are plenty of borders and boundaries to contend with. Later in September is ideal here, as the elk rut a little later here and movement really picks up once the first few cows start coming into estrus.

To the north you have area 700 which runs along the south border of Fort Peck. There are good numbers of elk here and a couple hundred are harvested in this area every year. It’s very open country but still has plenty of topography. Be prepared to cover a ton of ground and glass, glass, glass to find a good bull. Same goes for deer here. It’s general here and a lot of searching can lead to finding a 160” buck. I know a lot of guys hunt this stretch via boat from the lake which makes for a good way to cover country with your glass and really sort through the deer and elk.

The Custer is doing well for deer and has been a mule deer factory the past five years. Fawn survival has been high and there’s enough private property here that it keeps a lot of deer safe and they can grow up to something impressive. The rut is the time to be here as the general season is all of November and the bucks are cruising. There have been some 180” plus bucks killed in this region and covering country, using your glass is your best friend. Better yet, gain some access to private or book with an outfitter who has private hunting. This is where you’re going to find the largest bucks.
 
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