Fall is here and the annual hunting season has arrived right along with it.
Big game hunting is one of the Flathead Valley’s most closely held traditions, and while the general season for deer and elk does not open until Oct. 20, the archery season for most big game opened on Sept. 1 and the general season for black bears and wolves began Sept. 15.
When hunters do head afield this fall they might see a slightly smaller contingent of whitetail and mule deer, the result of consecutive snowier-than-normal winters that have made it difficult for deer fawns to survive. Still, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Wildlife Manager for Region 1 Neil Anderson, “there’s still a fair number of deer out there.” He added that elk populations are similar to last year.
The general season this year runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 25, beginning after two youth-only days on Oct. 18-19. The five-week hunting season is among the longest in the country, and with ample wildlife and tags available each year, Northwest Montana produces a robust annual harvest.
Before heading out this fall, all hunters must be properly licensed and possess proper tags, with more information on licensing available on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov/hunting. Hunters seeking a black bear tag must also pass a bear identification test proving they can differentiate between black bears, which can be hunted, and grizzly bears, which cannot. In addition to online, hunting licenses and permits can be purchased at a number of Flathead Valley locations, including Sportsman & Ski Haus, Snappy Sport Senter and the regional FWP office in Kalispell. A full list of locations is available at fwp.mt.gov.
No matter what hunters are after, being bear aware is once again one of the best ways to ensure a safe return home. Bears are especially active this time of year as they prepare to den for the winter, and hunters are urged to carry bear spray at all times, hunt with a partner if at all possible, and carefully approach carcasses while looking for signs of recent bear activity.
“One thing we try to remind everybody is to use common sense,” Anderson said. “And we hope folks realize that anywhere in Northwest Montana is grizzly bear country.”
Hunters are also urged to take special care to prevent wildfires, even as a recent bit of wet weather has led agencies to roll back previously imposed restrictions on campfires and other high-risk behaviors.
For the latest and most detailed information this hunting season, use the Hunt Planner at fwp.mt.gov under the Hunting tab. The planner allows hunters to search for hunting districts based on species and includes an interactive map.
As for where to find upland game birds, wolves, black bears, mountain lions, deer, elk and more, there are more than 90 million acres of public and private land to search through. Hunting on private land is only allowed if landowners provide consent. For those hunters who need a little stronger nudge to find their animal this year, Anderson had a simple hint.
“About a mile away from a road, your chances improve exponentially,” he said. “Elk have a tendency to avoid roads, especially during the hunting season, and usually that distance (from a road) is about a mile.”