Northwest Montana’s General Hunting Season Hits Home Stretch

The state's general deer and elk hunting season is wrapping up Nov. 26. But there are still hunting opportunities this winter.

By Beacon Staff
Elk trot through a snowy field off of West Valley Drive in Kalispell on Nov. 4, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

So far this season, more than 8,100 hunters appeared at four regional game check stations in northwest Montana through Nov. 19, or about 10% more than last year. Harvest results at the four check stations are slightly down compared to a year ago, however, but hunters have until Nov. 26 to turn that around.

According to figures that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) released Monday afternoon, approximately 8,147 hunters have appeared at four northwest Montana game check stations since the general deer and elk hunting season began on Oct. 21. That’s compared to 7,386 hunters who turned out during the same period last year.

Hunters have reported a total of 540 white-tailed deer, including 381 bucks, compared to 553 white-tailed deer at the same time last year, a figure that included 378 bucks. Hunters also reported 79 mule deer and 35 elk, compared to 60 and 54 last year, respectively. The overall hunter success rate is 8% percent to date, compared to 9% percent at the same point last year.

As the season wraps up, FWP officials are encouraging hunters to thank private landowners for access to their parcels through a new online portal, which also allows hunters to share stories from the field.

“FWP will collect these expressions of gratitude and share them with the specific landowners at the end of the season,” according to wildlife managers. Notes can be submitted online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/thank-a-landowner

Other general hunting seasons underway include black bear (Sept. 15 through Nov. 26), bighorn sheep (Sept. 15 through Nov. 26), moose (Sept. 15 through Nov. 26), mountain lion (fall season without dogs, Oct. 22 through Nov. 27), mountain goat (Sept. 15 through Nov. 26), turkey (Sept. 1 through Jan. 1), and wolf (Sept. 15 through March 15).

As a reminder, FWP officials said that, while the general hunting season ends after this week, hunters will still have opportunities into winter. Certain areas have continued elk hunting opportunities, and there is also Montana’s muzzleloader heritage hunting season for deer and elk that stretches from Dec. 9 until Dec. 17.

Check stations are open on weekends during general deer and elk hunting season from 10 a.m. to approximately 90 minutes past sunset. The regional stations are located at U.S. Highway 2 West of Kalispell, Montana Highway 83 north of Swan Lake, Highway 200 west of Thompson Falls, and Highway 93 near Olney.

Hunters must stop at any check station they encounter whether they harvested an animal or not. The counts at the stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

For an estimate of big game harvests from years’ past, visit https://myfwp.mt.gov/fwpPub/harvestReports.

Muzzleloader Heritage Hunting Season

During the muzzleloader heritage season, a person may take a deer or elk with any unused license or permit that is valid on the last day of the general hunting season, which this year falls on Nov. 26. 

Hunters can use plain lead projectiles and a muzzleloading rifle that is charged with loose black powder, loose pyrodex, or an equivalent loose black powder substitute. The charge is ignited by a flintlock, wheel lock, matchlock or percussion mechanism using a percussion or musket cap.

The muzzleloading rifle must be a minimum of .45 caliber and may not have more than two barrels.

Many of Montana’s Wildlife Management Areas have seasonal closures from Dec. 2 through May 14. Before heading to the field, hunters should review the regulations for each hunting district they plan to hunt. A list of WMAs and seasonal closure dates are available online at https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management-areas.

Northwest Montana (Region 1) Reminders

  • Elk hunting in Region 1 is restricted to brow-tined bulls only, with the exception of Hunting District 170 and unless a hunter has an antler-less elk permit. Certain hunting districts also allow hunters who posses a Permit to Hunt from a Vehicle (PTHFV) to harvest an antler-less elk (check regulations for specifics). A brow-tined bull is defined as “any elk having an antler or antlers with a visible point on the lower half of either main beam that is greater than or equal to four inches long.”
  • Hunters who purchased the limited either-sex white-tailed deer B license can only use that license within the Libby CWD Management Zone. For more info, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/cwd.
  • Hunting at Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Columbia Falls is open only to youth through a limited drawing. Starting Dec. 2, Bad Rock Canyon WMA will be closed to all public access through May 15 at noon to protect big game winter range.
  • Mule deer buck hunting in the North Fisher portion of Hunting District 103 near Libby is permit-only with the 103-50 permit.
  • Many private lands that were historically owned by corporate timber companies have changed ownership, and hunters should review the Block Management Program for Region 1 to view available public access opportunities and restrictions on private lands.

Visit https://fwp.mt.gov/hunt/landownerprograms/block-management.

Hunters should “Be Bear Aware” and properly store food and carcasses. Hunters should avoid hanging carcasses near houses or garages. Carcasses should be suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from any upright support. Hunters are encouraged to carry bear spray and know how to use it. More food storage and safety information are available on the FWP website at https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/bear/be-bear-aware.

The toll-free hotline for reporting wildlife poaching, property damage, and violations of Montana fish and game laws is in operation 24 hours a day. If you witness a fish and game violation, or property vandalism, you can report the crime by calling 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668); or report a violation online at fwp.mt.gov. Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

Chronic Wasting Disease

Testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD) is voluntary throughout the state. FWP can assist hunters with sample collection and submission, or hunters can submit samples themselves.

CWD is a fatal disease that infects members of the deer family, including elk, moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. Hunters play a key role in minimizing the spread of CWD and providing data. 

In northwest Montana, hunters can bring their harvested animal to the FWP office in Kalispell, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. FWP staff will also assist with CWD sample collection at weekend game check stations across the region when possible and safety allows, based on traffic at the station. Stopping at game check stations remains mandatory. 

A CWD sampling station in Libby will operate Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, 9:30 a.m. to 2 hours past sunset at the Montana Department of Transportation shop on U.S. Highway 2 south of town. Hunters are not required to stop at the Libby CWD sampling station.

FWP will cover the cost of testing hunter-harvested animals for CWD.

Hunters who want their animal sampled should leave 2 to 4 inches of the neck below the low jawbone and base of the skull to ensure lymph nodes are present and not inadvertently left with the carcass. Samples cannot be collected from frozen heads.

To help prevent the spread of CWD, all carcasses, including the head and spinal column, must be disposed of in a class II landfill after butchering and processing. Dumping carcasses is illegal, unethical and can spread diseases, including chronic wasting disease. This requirement applies to all deer, elk, and moose carcasses harvested by hunters or as vehicle-killed salvage.

For a list of proper landfills for disposal, instructional videos, and more info on CWD in Montana, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/cwd

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