Montana is a great state for nonresident hunters to consider. There are plenty of big game options with generous season dates. Big game hunters also have add-on opportunities for small game, upland birds and fishing.
If you’re thinking about applying for a hunt in Montana this year, here are a few things you should know:
Nonresident Combo Tags
Hunters who wish to pursue elk or deer in Montana need to apply in the annual draw. The application deadline this year is April 1. If you'd like to hunt in Montana this year, don't miss that deadline!
Hunters may choose from three different combo tag options. There is a big game combo, a deer combo and an elk combo.
The nonresident big game combo license includes just about everything. It includes general elk and general deer – giving hunters access to the state’s general hunting units. What’s more, the big game combo includes upland birds and fishing. The upland bird license does not include turkey or waterfowl. This combo license is ideal for hunters wanting to maximize opportunity. You can chase elk up the mountain and shoot grouse in the process then drop down for deer and fishing.
The deer combo tag includes everything in the big game combo except elk. This is ideal for hunters who wish to focus solely on a deer hunt – and the price point is lower as well. The elk combo tag excludes deer in the same manner. Hunters choosing to target only one of the big game species can choose one or the other. Like the big game combo, the deer combo and elk combo also include upland birds and fishing.
Regardless of which big game tag you seek, a base hunting license and conservation license is required to hunt. Archery hunters will need a bow and arrow stamp as well. Perhaps one of the best perks of hunting in Montana is the ability to hunt archery season and then return for rifle season if you haven’t filled your tag. These generous season dates make it a worthwhile value – despite the hefty nonresident license cost.
At the time we published this information, a nonresident deer license is $614. An elk license is $888. The big game combo is $1,052. The nonresident base hunting license is $15 and the conservation license is $10. The bow and arrow stamp for nonresident archery hunters is an additional $10. Those nonresident license costs may seem steep. But considering the fact that each one includes fishing and upland hunting – plus the potential to hunt both archery and rifle season – all together make it a quality opportunity.
75% of the combo licenses are distributed on a preference point system, meaning those with the most points gets the license. Even if you don’t have any points going into this year's draw, nonresidents have a good shot at drawing. Demand does increase each year. But as of 2021, nonresidents with zero points still had about a 70% chance of drawing one of the big game combo tags.
For detailed draw odds, you can't beat the information from our friends at GoHunt. Join their insider service, and you'll have a wealth of application information at your fingertips.
If you’re not sure you want to hunt Montana this year, it can still be wise to purchase a preference point. This will set you up for a better chance of drawing down the road. If you decide not to apply in the draw this spring, you can still purchase a preference point for combo tags when they go on sale in July.
Special Permit Tags
In addition to applying for these general unit licenses, applicants may also choose to apply for a limited permit. The draw success rates are published for each unit. Again, for the best draw odds, visit our friends at GoHunt. Some of these limited permits are very difficult to draw. And all special permits in Montana are distributed using a bonus point system. This is different from the preference point system used for the combo tags. Simplified, a bonus point gives you more chances in the draw.
Keep in mind, hunters are required to apply for a combo tag first. Then, they can choose to apply for a special permit. If you don’t draw the special permit, you can choose to keep your combo or return it for a partial refund. If you’re planning to apply for a combo tag anyway, you might consider applying for one of these high-demand permits. Odds may be low, but you could get lucky and end up hunting one of Montana’s premier units! If not, then use your combo license in a general unit.
Fishing and Upland Included
The inclusion of fishing and upland birds is worth considering when choosing a hunt unit. Western Montana has healthy grouse populations and some areas have pheasants as well. Central and eastern Montana have strong pheasant populations and Hungarian partridge, plus grouse in the mountains and sage brush.
Montana is also loaded with fishing opportunities. You will find productive waters in every region. This could be a great excuse for a scouting trip during the summer months!
Spot and Stalk Spring Bear Hunting
Finally, don’t overlook the opportunity for spring bear hunting in Montana. The spring bear license is sold over-the-counter. Non-residents can enjoy a quality spring hunt without worrying about applications and draw odds.
Montana allows spot and stalk hunting during the spring bear season. No baiting or hunting with hounds is allowed. But there is a strong bear population and plenty of black bears to pursue on this OTC tag. If you’re looking to extend the hunting season into the spring with a great adventure, spring bear is something to consider.
Gear for the Hunt
If you have further questions or if you need help with gear for your next western hunt, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help with our best gear recommendations and we’d love to help you be successful on your next trip!
Please note that free shipping is included on all orders over $49 from Caribou Gear. So get your gear together and make a plan for a great Montana hunt!
By Zach Lazzari & Ryan McSparran