Central Montana Elk Hunting: Part 2

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As I indicated in the previous article, Central Montana contains quite a few limited draw areas.  The herds are also lower density herds that are not widely distributed throughout Regions 4 and 5, but mostly in clumps or pockets that are seemingly isolated from the next pocket of elk.  The last article addressed the general permit areas in Central Montana, this one will cover some of the limited permit areas.

Hunting Districts 401, 403, 410, 411, 412, 417, 420, 426, 441, 445, 447, 450, 455, 500, 502, 510, 511, 520, 530, 570, 575, 580, and 590 are limited draw bull elk units.  Now, not all of these areas are worth bothering with for a DIY hunter.  For starters, let’s eliminate of few of these right off the bat, as they just don’t have enough public land to matter. And if you are private land hunting, selecting the right property is probably as important as selecting the right unit, so I’ll leave that up to you.  401, 403, 445, 450, 500, 502, 510, 570 and 575 for instance have very few elk or very little public land, so just scratch them off now as they could be a pain the butt to hunt.   Then there’s 590, which is a huge area, having lots of tiny parcels of BLM, most which aren’t very huntable without private access.  590 is also the Bull Mountains, which are almost all private land and have been made famous recently through numerous hunting videos produced in the area.

So, let’s focus on 410, 411, 412, 417, 420, 426, 441, 447, 455, 511, and 580.  The Missouri River Breaks, while probably most famous for its mule deer hunting, produces some fantastic elk hunting.  The rugged terrain, extremely limited bull hunting and great elk habitat in those sparse Ponderosa Pines have combined to yield as high as 40% 6 plus point bulls in some of the 400 series units.  Though there are 600 and 700 series units around the Missouri Breaks, Fort Peck Lake and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, let’s just stay with the 400 series units for now.  Units 410, 417 and 426 all contain part of this famous area.  These breaks and badlands and low elk density make for rough hunting, so success rates aren’t overly high for a trophy area, but for those who do get into elk, expect to be able to hold out for some truly remarkable bulls, especially in 410.

411 and 511 encompass the Big Snowy Mountains.  As you’d expect with a limited draw area, some awesome bulls come from these hunting districts.  As with 410, most years bull harvests will have in excess of 40% of the bulls being at least a 6 point.  Success rates, once again, are lower than you’d expect, especially considering the number of roads accessing nearly every drainage.  However, those roads won’t get you to the highest country, so you’ll still have to walk quite a long way to access the elk once the shooting begins.  For a small isolated mountain range out in the prairie, the Big Snowys are surprisingly rugged and extend over 3,000 feet above the surrounding ranchlands.  The draw odds aren’t too bad though.  About 17% of the 2010 applicants drew this bull tag.

Most of 412 is private land, but just enough of it around the Judith Mountains is BLM to make it worth noting.  As with the 411 permit, the draws odds aren’t too steep and some huge bulls are taken out of here every year.  These mountains are much less rugged than the Big Snowys, with very little above 6,000 feet.  Buth they are heavily timbered and the spotty public land creates some refuge situations.  So, I’m not really high on the area, despite the incredible bulls and huntable country.

420 is an interesting district because it is so tiny.  Essentially it exists for a hunt on the Judith River Wildlife Management area, Tollgate Mountain, Tepee Butte and a small amount National Forest Land up Yogo Creek.  This is an excellent hunt, as the elk density can be shockingly high later in the season, and the 10% draw odds make it feel like it is worth taking a stab at it.  But due to the seasonal nature of the hunt and the small amount of public land in some fairly rugged country, the success rates aren’t great as you’d think it should be with over 15 elk per square mile in one small area.  Still 50% is nothing to scoff at.

Unit 441 is nice but nothing special in my opinion.  The 5% draw odds are awful steep for a 30% success hunt that doesn’t produce remarkable bulls.   There’s no shortage of public land in the Teton River drainage, and there’s no wilderness to contend with.  The country is incredibly rugged though, and with the low elk density(about 1.5 per square mile), you can really hike your butt off for little reward.  Thankfully there aren’t many bull hunters, but I’d rather pass on this hunt.

447 is large area with just a small piece of National Forest to hunt.  But its not bad, as it’s well managed for decent bulls, low pressure and better than average success.  The Shonkin Mountains are even smaller than the Big Snowys, the draw odds are worse and so are the bulls, so I don’t think I’d be tempted to put in for this area with all the other options available.  It’s a draw area because it needs to be crowd controlled in order to maintain the elk population there, but that doesn’t make it a better option than the Missouri Breaks, Big Snowys, Judith River or Judith Gap.

510 down in the Pryor Mountains and surrounding the Bighorn River as it comes out of Wyoming  is an extremely intriguing area, but do to the low elk density, I haven’t really followed it as closely as I should have.  From what I can tell, it seems elk harvest in the Pryors is pretty sporadic, and really not worth trying to draw.  It’s better deer country than elk country.

So that brings us to 580, the east side of the Crazy Mountains.  This is an excellent area with good success and a large amount of public land, and worth the draw odds of roughly 10%.  The bulls aren’t really trophy managed, but some good bulls come out of here nevertheless.  However, this is some very rugged country, and while not a federally designated wilderness area, it is pretty close to one for all practical purposes.  The Big Snowy Mountains are much easier to navigate than the Crazies, so if you have any doubt as to whether or not you think you can hack it in truly steep country, you probably can’t here.  I’m willing to admit these mountains are probably out of my league for a backpack hunt, and have restricted myself to hunting the creeks and surrounding hillsides in the general portions of the Crazies, but without much luck.  Given the fact that general permits are allowed in some parts, you really have to be committed to the backcountry here, so think about before applying.

Anyway, these are Central Montana’s limited permit options.  Of all these options, I’d think the hardest about the Big Snowys and the Judith River if you get the chance to put in next year.


GooseHunter Jr's picture

Yet again another great elk

Yet again another great elk articile.  Montana is one of those places that I would love to go and chase some elk around.  But I am sure with as others coming here to Colorado it is really hard to find a good area to go to and then you may not get any scouting in before the season starts.  So articiles like this really help some us get an idea what to look for.

numbnutz's picture

Another great article Mark.

Another great article Mark. All of them have been great so far. It help in doing research because I'm planning a hunt in the next 3-5 years and getting info on the states on my list is great. I would like to see an artcle or 2 on my home state of Oregon. I now its not a hot destination but it does offer some really good hunting.For someone who hasnt drawn a tag and just looking for a last minute OTC oppertunity it is a good place to consider.

codyac21's picture

Multi State Hunter

What a great bunch of info for someone like me that would love to start visiting multiple states annually to chase wa"apiti.  I can't decide between Idaho or Montana and I am only excluding Wyoming because I hunt CO annually and want to see something as different as possible.   Im leaning towards the Frank Church-River of no Return wilderness which is the largest in the lower 48.  Is BGH gonna do an Idaho Elk Overview for comparison? 

Idaho is covered

Check out all the articles that Mark has written for "The Western Hunter" blog, all are excellent and he has covered Idaho. We're always open for additional suggestions!