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2020 big game hunting forecast

Destination: Northwest Montana


Last updated 9/17/2020 at 7:38am

By Fish, Wildlife and Park

Are you ready for hunting season? FWP can help. In addition to the following hunting forecast, FWP provides online information about hunting access, including our popular Block Management Program. Through the program, we coordinate with landowners to provide hunting access to more than 7 million acres of private land.

The interactive Hunt Planner map allows users to look at information for various species, including hunting districts and regulations. The hunt planner interactive map is a great way to access our block management information, so if you’re planning a hunt in a certain area, you can see if there are Block Management Areas available to expand your opportunity.

And, as always, you can contact our helpful staff at any of our regional offices around the state. They’re happy to help and can often get you pointed in the right direction with just a few simple tips.

Montana has some of the longest hunting seasons in the West, healthy herds of game and access to millions of acres of public land. However, hunters must be mindful of fire danger and of private landowners who are facing grass shortages, poor crop production and fatigue from monitoring for fire. Hunter harvest helps to reduce wildlife densities on a stressed landscape, and perhaps help to lessen winter depredation on haystacks or winter range. 

Here are a few things hunters can do to show respect for private landowners during this dry season:

• avoid vehicle use in areas with dry grass in the median

• use caution when parking in areas with dry vegetation

• report smoke or any signs of fire to local officials

• carry a fire extinguisher or water to quickly snuff any potential fires.


Northwest Montana experienced a mild winter last year, which resulted in good adult and fawn survival for white-tailed deer. Overall numbers should be similar or slightly higher than last year. There should also be an increase in the number of yearling bucks on the landscape.

In 2019, FWP detected chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer, mule deer, and moose in the Libby area. Hunters need to be aware of the Libby CWD Management Zone, which includes portions of HDs 100, 103 and 104. Testing for CWD is voluntary, and harvested animals can be checked at the Libby Special CWD Hunt Sampling Station — Montana Department of Transportation shop on U.S. Highway 2, mile marker 35 — during certain days of the week. Please check http://fwp.mt.gov for details.

This fall, hunters without game will be directed to quickly move through FWP check stations.

The mild winter resulted in increased adult and fawn survival of mule deer. Overall numbers should be similar last year with an increase in young bucks. Hunters are reminded to check the regulations as only antlered bucks may be harvested in Region 1 and there are areas in HD 103 and HD 109 that require a permit to hunt mule deer.

In areas where surveys were conducted, elk calf recruitment was higher than it has been in the last three years. Overall, elk numbers should be similar to last year. Elk hunting is challenging in northwest Montana due to difficult terrain, heavily forested areas and densities relatively lower than other areas in Montana. Elk distribution will likely change from now through the archery season. Hunters are advised to do their homework and look for areas in the back country away from roads and high hunting pressure.

This fall, hunters without game will be directed to quickly move through FWP check stations.

Following decreases in moose harvest in Hunting District 105, FWP proposed reducing the total number of licenses available to 12; this change will likely take place for the 2021-22 season. Despite these statistics, FWP has consistently seen a much higher number of moose, including moose with calves, during collaring efforts — which happen to occur a little later than surveys each year. Rather than rely solely on survey and harvest data to tell us about trends in moose numbers, FWP began collaring moose in HD 105 — and in two other study areas — in 2013. Thus far, the study has revealed that none of the study areas’ moose populations are in dire straits, and the HD 105 study area has high adult cow survival rate.

Overall, black bear numbers appear to be steady in northwest Montana. Great berry crops this summer and fall could mean bears are dispersed, which may make them more challenging to find this fall. Look for areas with abundant food sources like huckleberries, service berries, choke cherries and mountain ash.

All successful bear hunters will be required to report their bear harvest through the FWP Harvest Reporting Line 1-877-FWP-WILD (1-877-397-9453) within 48 hours of harvest. Unlike in years past, FWP will not require or conduct a carcass inspection, hide seal or tooth collection. This fall season, FWP is asking successful bear hunters to voluntarily submit a bear tooth of harvested bears to FWP. The tooth will be sent to a laboratory where the age of the bear will be determined. FWP biologists use this age information, along with the sex of the bear, to manage bear populations in Montana. For more information, visit http://fwp.mt.gov.

Northwest Montana has abundant wolf numbers. Record harvests in the 2018 and 2019 seasons likely reduced numbers to some extent, but overall populations are healthy. Wolf license costs were reduced for the 2020 season. Despite good numbers, wolves can be difficult to find and often move long distances. If hunters want to be successful, scouting and understanding wolf behavior is important.

For information on hunting safely in grizzly country, people can visit http://www.igbconline.org/hunters/.


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