The Western Hunter's blog

Montana Elk Hunting: Northwest Montana

As I mentioned last week, Montana lends itself well to being broken up into several regions to dissect its elk hunting opportunities.  We’ll start with Region 1, which is all of Northwest Montana outside of Glacier National Park, the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. 

This is big timber country.  Much of the area is logged on both Forest Service and publicly accessible private lands like the Plum Creek Timber Company through the Block Management system.  While mountainous, access is not overly difficult and there are numerous roads throughout the area for recreational and logging traffic.  When you look at this region from the air, the first thing that stands out is the tremendous checkerboard pattern of clearcut logging so common throughout the Northwest, but rarely seen in the drier mountains south and east of there.  This is probably a good thing for elk and deer hunting, but there is still a lot of dark timber that you’ll have to traverse to actually kill an elk. 

Montana Elk Hunting Overview

Montana is one of those states that many hunters dream of.  As a kid growing up in California, the mystique of hunting the 4th largest state, with less than a million residents, and a name that essentially means mountain played a big part in choosing to go to school at Montana State University to study wildlife management.  I figured if I was going to study wildlife, I needed to go to where the wildlife was.  And wildlife certainly abounds in Montana.  For most out of state hunters, elk is the main event.

Scouting Tips For Late Season Hunts

Scouting for the early seasons up in the high country is fairly straightforward, even if a little physically demanding.  For deer, where you find the game in July or August is pretty close to where you will find them in September.  Elk will be just a little bit lower, typically a little below timberline in mountains that have true alpine country.  In canyon/mesa/plateau country elk and deer won’t be far from where you found them in the summertime if you’re hunting them anytime through mid or late October.  But it’s scouting for those later season hunts that can get a little bit tricky.  You’re going to guess at where you expect to find them, but hopefully it will be an educated guess.  Most of what I’m going to focus on are November and later deer hunts and December elk hunts here.

Remote Scouting Tips

Whether you are a resident of your chosen hunting grounds or not, learning to fully utilize your remote scouting tools will help open your eyes to all of the possibilities of your hunting area. I’ve frequently encountered hunters during the middle of the season who claimed to have hunted an area all of his life, then when asked about what’s over the next ridge, he’ll just shrug his shoulders and say he’s never been there.  Familiarizing yourself with an area through aerial photos and maps is an excellent way to scout and draw up plans when you can’t be on the ground.

Finalizing the Hunting Plans

Over the next few weeks, your hunting plans should start to come together. Your final plans should not be just one plan, but building in a series of if “a” then “b” type plans. While there is no cookie cutter for hunt planning, I’ll hopefully be able to give you a few things to think about here. In addition to environmental or other hunting conditions affecting the hunts you’ve been planning for several months (or even years), I use this time of year to look for back up meat tags, for worst case scenarios.

Idaho Elk Hunting Overview

For several reasons, Idaho is one of the least talked about of the major elk hunting destinations in the country.  It may have something to do with its geographic location; west of the first line of elk states for eastern hunters (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico), and those west of Idaho have their own elk to hunt, with the exception of much of California.  But even for the Californians, it’s often easier to get to Colorado, Arizona, Utah or Oregon.  Maybe it’s the negative press from the wolf reintroduction (but this is affecting Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico too).  It also seems Utah and Arizona overshadows Idaho, probably due to the number of tightly managed trophy areas.  Whatever the reason, Idaho is really a state that deserves a closer look, especially if you don’t like draws or if you feel disadvantaged with no preference points.

Alpine Scouting for the Early Hunting Seasons

In that last article, I covered some of the things I do when learning the roads and public access points in my area and how I try to get a good feel for where the game is.  But this doesn’t really apply very well to summer scouting alpine animals deep within a wilderness area, sometimes more than 10 miles from the nearest road.  If one intends to hunt the backcountry, it doesn’t do a lot of good to note the locations and concentrations of deer or elk along the roadsides.  The alpine hunter will still want to drive around his unit, figuring out which trailheads and roads will likely be the most popular, and which ones are the most difficult to access.  If you want to note the best drainages for game numbers, it’s best to do it in the early to late spring when they are at lower elevations along the roads and there’s too much snow for them to get higher up.

Summer Scouting Tips

Scouting begins long before you ever set foot in your chosen hunting area, but I thought this would be a good time to talk about some things to do when you actually arrive in your prospective area.  When selecting a hunting unit, I will generally narrow down my selections by first going over the stats, picking out a few units of interest based on whatever my main criteria are. Then I’ll whip out the maps (I have an atlas for every one of the Western States, plus most of the others with significant public lands, and I don’t live too far away from the USGS map center) to see whether the terrain and landowndership pattern are something I can work with.  I’ll use a little Google Earth and other remote scouting tools to then get an idea of the habitat types that we might be looking at.

Wyoming Leftover Licenses

As of last Friday, Wyoming’s drawings are now complete.  The drawing odds reports are now available, and the leftover lists are already posted.  Leftovers will go on sale July 6th at 8:00 mountain time.  The licenses can be purchased over the internet.   As you’d expect, most of the licenses that made it to leftovers have an asterisk beside the unit number, implying difficult public access.  That does not mean access is impossible, as Wyoming also has two excellent private access programs for the public in the Walk In Access areas and Hunter Management Areas.

Colorado Mule Deer Leftover Tags

With Colorado’s troubled deer population, there aren’t nearly as many leftover tags to choose from.  While the elk leftovers offered some truly excellent options, the deer leftovers are quite a bit poorer.  You can do well with a few of them, but you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before you buy one of these tags.  That should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from that buy a tag without doing sufficient research ahead of time. 

So without further ado, lets take a look at what’s left after the draw.  I’m just going to focus on the Western Colorado units, you basically need private land access if you don’t want to hunt the very few and tiny overcrowded private parcels.  Yes there are some bigger pieces, but for the most part I focus on the western units. 

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