Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has primary responsibility for managing wildlife populations in Montana. The Forest Service is responsible for managing forest and grassland habitat, which supplies food, water, shelter, and solitude for wildlife. The Wisdom Ranger District, adjoining private, BLM, and State lands, contains a variety of habitats, from high mountain areas to ranch land valleys. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks regulations provide information concerning hunting season, shooting hours, and other considerations and are available throughout Montana at department offices and sporting good shops.
Big Game Hunting
The State of Montana is famous for Big Game Hunting. Most of Montana's wildlife populations are more plentiful today than they have been at any time since statehood.
According to the Montana Hunting Almanac, estimates place the number of mule deer and whitetails at close to a half-million. Elk numbers exceed 110,000 in early autumn, and wintering populations total more than 90,000. In many parts of Montana, there are more antelope than people, with total pronghorn populations hovering around the 100,000 mark. Add to those perhaps 10,000 black bears, more than 8,000 moose, up to 7,500 mountain goats and as many as 8,000 bighorn sheep.
Montana's big-game hunting seasons stretch from early September into February, varying by species and area, and resume in April, May and June for black bear. The general season for deer and elk is consistently five weeks long. Deer and antelope hunters have considerable opportunity to harvest at least two of each in many areas.
Elk populations are thriving on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This area consistently leads the state in elk production. Since the late 1960s elk populations have tripled.
Some of the hunting districts in this area are regarded as providing the greatest degree of natural security for elk. These districts have some of the region's wildest country, where terrain, cover and isolation make it difficult for hunters to penetrate.
The Pioneer elk management unit, according to the 1993 Montana Hunting Alamanac, is a 2,040-square-mile area of mostly public land (Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest) that features low road densities, extensive backcountry areas and good security for an elk population of about 3,000. With the exception of the west face of the West Pioneers, most of this unit has good public access, although travel in the roadless areas is restricted to foot and horse traffic.
According to statistics conducted by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), 600 to 800 elk have been harvested annually, with 400 to 500 of these being bulls. The security provided by the large amount of roadless land provides good age diversity among bull elk. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages the area to maintain a late-winter elk population of 2,700 to 3,200 and 200 to 400 antlerless elk.
Deer (Whitetail & Mule)
Whitetails are thriving with numbers in the 170,000s and their range is expanding. At the same time, mule deer are at relatively healthy levels (300,000 statewide), but are not growing in numbers as fast as their whitetail cousins.
Whitetails are more abundant than they were over 30 years ago, mule deer are not. Mule deer will be abundant where they are found, but they will be found in fewer places than in previous years.
Mule deer are found mostly on public land (Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest), while whitetails are predominantly found on the private lands in the valleys and river bottoms. This tends to make finding a place to hunt mule deer a little easier for most hunters.
There is an early antlerless deer season, regulated on a permit basis, for certain river bottom areas. The early season is geared at getting hunters into specific areas before ranchers move their cattle into the river bottoms for winter.
The majority of antelope are found on BLM, state and private land in the valley bottoms and foothills. Antelope populations appear to be at relatively high levels, although down from peak levels of a few years ago.
All antelope permits are issued through a lottery permit system. Hunting Districts in this area have had an approximate success rate of 70 percent or better the last few years.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is one of the major moose-producing hunting regions in the state. Surveys done by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks show moose in the area are maintaining good populations. Hunting success rates for moose over the last few years have been 80 percent or better on the Wisdom Ranger District.
The Pintler's East and West Pioneers mountain ranges are home to bighorn sheep on the Wisdom Ranger District. This species is perhaps one of the most highly esteemed big game species in North America.
There is a limited opportunity available to hunt Big Horn. The success rate in this district is less than 10 percent, where hunting is tough due to the steep terrain.
Mountain Goats are managed conservatively, meaning relatively few goat permits are issued. Huntable populations of goats reside in the West Pioneers. Goat populations are believed to be stable and may be increasing. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is in the process of compiling surveys done on the goat population. Success rates on the Wisdom District have on average been 80 percent.
Game Bird Hunting
Bird hunting is an increasingly popular sport with Montana hunters. More than 75,000 people hunt upland game birds each fall and about 20,000 hunt waterfowl. The upland game birds that occur on the Wisdom District include spruce (Franklin's) grouse, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, and sage grouse. Waterfowl that can be found on the District include Canadian geese, mallard, cinnamon teal, and green-winged teal.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication