Some Montanans will tell you that opening day of hunting season
each fall is a bigger holiday than Christmas, birthdays or the
Fourth of July. Because for them, opening day is not just about
family and tradition, it’s about the heritage of a place, the
thrill of a hunt and the challenge of a sport.
Montana is blessed with some of the largest population of
big game wild animals in the country, besides perhaps Alaska.
Elk and whitetail and mule deer roam the entire state, from
the bottom lands o far up into the mountains. Antelope, the
other of the three main big-game animals, can be found throughout
the open, low valleys, especially in the eastern two thirds
of the state. And it is not just the animals that are so prized
by hunters, but the expanses of scenic wild lands on which they
The makeup of Montana’s hunting season is a complex schedule
in which different areas are open at different times, with different
restrictions — so make sure to understand the state regulations
before you go. You can hunt on both private and public land,
but you must have permission to hunt private land before you
The state’s regulations are part of an overall management
strategy to ensure that big game populations are around for
a long time, and offer hunters a variety of hunting options.
Before the main season, you can hunt for elk or deer with a
bow and arrow — yes, that is still a very popular method of
hunting in Montana. During the main season, most areas are open
to hunting primarily with a standard rifle. And in some areas,
where hunting pressure may be low or animal counts high, the
hunting season can extend past the regular end date.
Many people hunt for the meat, which is more tender, flavorful
and lean than most supermarket beef. Along with that tradition
of hunting comes a tradition of cooking!
But for some hunters, their main aim is a tough hunt, and
so they chase other animals. The mountain lion is perhaps the
most elusive creature in the woods, and the hardest to shoot.
Other hunters will go after mountain goats and big horn sheep,
in search of their elegant and regal horns, though few of these
permits are given out each year.
If you’re new to hunting, maybe you’d like to hire an outfitter
or guide to show you the way. Stalking game is not easy, and
moving in close enough to take a sure shot is harder that it
might seem. Hunters spend years honing their skills and developing
the experience to be successful, and for a new hunter, a guide
can help speed up the learning curve. Plus, with one of the
state’s many gifted outfitters, you can experience the Montana
backcountry like you never thought imagined, complete with comfortable
sleeping quarters, warm campfires and good eatin’.
Hunting in Montana is steeped in history and lore. But it
is also steeped in a deep tradition of conservation — in fact,
in many regards, hunters and fishermen were the first conservationists.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one of the pioneering sportsman-based
conservation groups, was started by four Montana hunters several
decades ago and today is one of the largest such organizations
in the country.
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