in Southwest Montana
Wildlife & Recreation
in Beaverhead County, Montana
Overview of Hunting & Wildlife in Montana
The State of Montana is famous for Big Game Hunting. Most of Montana's wildlife populations are more plentiful today than they have been at any time
Montana's big-game hunting seasons stretch from early September into February, varying by species and area, and resume in April, May and June for
black bear. The general season for deer and elk is consistently five weeks long. Deer and antelope hunters have considerable opportunity to harvest at
least two of each in many areas.
- According to the Montana Hunting Almanac, estimates place the number of mule deer and whitetail deer at close to a half-million.
- Elk numbers exceed 110,000 in early autumn, and wintering populations total more than 90,000.
- In many parts of Montana, there are more antelope than people, with total pronghorn populations hovering around 100,000.
- add to those perhaps 10,000 black bears
- more than 8,000 moose
- up to 7,500 mountain goats
- and maybe as many as 8,000 bighorn sheep
Elk in Southwest Montana
Elk populations are thriving on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This area consistently leads the state in elk production. Since the late 1960s
elk populations have tripled.
Some of the hunting districts in this area are regarded as providing the greatest degree of natural security for elk. These districts have some of the
region's wildest country, where terrain, cover and isolation make it difficult for hunters to penetrate.
The Pioneer elk management unit, according to the 1993 Montana Hunting Alamanac, is a 2,040 square mile area of mostly public land
(Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest) that features low road densities, extensive backcountry areas and good security for an elk population of about
3,000. With the exception of the west face of the West Pioneers, most of this unit has good public access, although travel in the roadless areas is
restricted to foot and horse traffic.
According to statistics conducted by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), 600 to 800 elk have been harvested annually, with 400 to 500 of
these being bulls. The security provided by the large amount of roadless land provides good age diversity among bull elk. The Department of Fish,
Wildlife and Parks manages the area to maintain a late-winter elk population of 2,700 to 3,200 and 200 to 400 antlerless elk.
Mule Deer and
Whitetails are thriving with numbers in the 170,000s and their range is expanding. At the same time, mule deer are at relatively healthy levels (300,000
statewide), but are not growing in numbers as fast as their whitetail cousins.
Whitetails are more abundant than they were over 30 years ago, mule deer are not. Mule deer will be abundant where they are found, but they will be
found in fewer places than in previous years.
Mule deer are found mostly on public land (Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest), while whitetails are predominantly found on the private lands in the
valleys and river bottoms. This tends to make finding a place to hunt mule deer a little easier for most hunters.
There is an early antlerless deer season, regulated on a permit basis, for certain river bottom areas. The early season is geared at getting hunters into
specific areas before ranchers move their cattle into the river bottoms for winter.
in Southwest Montana
Pronghorn Antelope in Southwest Montana
The majority of antelope are found on BLM, State and private land in the valley bottoms and foothills. Antelope populations appear to be at relatively high
levels, although down from peak levels of a few years ago.
All antelope permits are issued through a lottery permit system. Hunting Districts in this area have had an approximate success rate of 70% or better the
last few years.
Moose in Southwest Montana
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is one of the major moose-producing hunting regions in the state. Surveys done by the Department of Fish,
Wildlife and Parks show moose in the area are maintaining good populations. Hunting success rates for moose over the last few years have been 80% or
better on the Wisdom Ranger District.
Big Horn Sheep in Southwest Montana
The Pintler Mountains, East Pioneer Mountains and
West Pioneer Mountain range are home to Big Horn Sheep on the Wisdom Ranger District. This species is perhaps one of the most highly esteemed big
game species in North America.
There is a limited opportunity available to hunt Big Horn. The success rate in this district is less than 10%, where hunting is tough due to the steep
Mountain Goats in Southwest Montana
Mountain Goats are managed conservatively, meaning relatively few goat permits are issued. Huntable populations of goats reside in the West
Pioneers. Goat populations are believed to be stable and may be increasing. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is in the process of compiling
surveys done on the goat population. Success rates on the Wisdom District have on an average been 80%.
Game Bird Hunting
in Southwest Montana
Bird hunting is an increasingly popular sport with Montana hunters. More than 75,000 people hunt upland game birds each fall and about 20,000 hunt
waterfowl. The upland game birds that occur on the Wisdom District include spruce (Franklin's) grouse, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, and sage grouse.
Waterfowl that can be found on the District include Canadian Geese, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, and Green-Winged Teal.