Montana approves 2022-23 hunting regulations

HELENA – At its Feb. 4 meeting, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved hunting regulations for the 2022 and 2023 hunting seasons with a significant focus on changes to elk hunting opportunities.

All final regulations approved at the meeting will go into effect when the new license year begins on March 1. New regulation booklets for moose, sheep, mountain goat, bison, deer, elk and antelope will be available online this month and in print by mid-March. Hunters should make sure to read through the new regulations before applying for permits and licenses this spring. The first application deadline for deer and elk permits is April 1.

“Friday’s commission meeting was the culmination of hard work by staff and an amazing amount of input from hunters, landowners, and outfitters across the state,” said FWP Director Hank Worsech. “My hope was to engage the public on improving hunter access to elk and elk distribution across public and private land. And though some proposals were controversial, the commission and the department heard from more people than ever before with input and ideas on how to improve elk management. I think we have made progress and will focus now on implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of these regulation changes.”

FWP continues to focus on improving elk management. This includes elk plan development, work ongoing with the Private Lands Public Wildlife Committee, and organizing the Elk Management Citizen Advisory Group which is currently seeking applicants.

A recap of decisions from the Feb. 4 Commission meeting follows.

Elk regulations

The commission set quotas for limited archery-only elk permits in hunting districts 411, 412, 417, 426, 447, 502, 535, 555, 590, part of 701, 702, 704, and 705. In these hunting districts, the archery-only permits will be the first and only choice for applicants, which means if people want to hunt in one of these districts, they will only be able to apply for that specific district.

The commission also set quotas for limited archery-only permits in hunting districts 410, 620, and 700. In these hunting districts, the archery permits will be available as the first or second choice for applicants.

The commission also set new quotas for limited rifle permits for either-sex elk in hunting districts 411, 417, 426, 535, 702, 704, and 705. Permits in these districts will be available as first and only choice for applicants. They commission increased the quota in hunting district 590 but didn’t limit those permits to first and only choice.

The commission also limited hunters who draw a bull elk or either-sex permit to only hunt bull elk within that hunting district for the period of time that the permit is valid (antlerless elk hunting would not be restricted). The exception is hunting district 270. Hunters who draw that unlimited permit may still hunt bull elk elsewhere in the state.

Additionally, antlerless elk 004 and 005 regional B licenses have been adjusted to unlimited over-the-counter opportunity. Late antlerless elk seasons will continue as they were adjusted by the commission last summer.

Black bear regulations

The commission reviewed options for implementing a law passed during the 2021 Legislature that allowed hunting black bears with hounds. Additionally, the commission also looked to adjust reporting requirements for hunters who successfully harvest a black bear.

After much deliberation and public comment, the commission approved the use of hounds in the spring with the requirement for hound hunters that dogs must wear tracking collars while hunting and training with the ability to send GPS location information and receive transmissions from hound handlers. This is intended to ensure hound handlers can electronically recall hounds and allow the hound handler to receive GPS location data from the collars. Additionally, the commission determined hound hunting would occur only outside of occupied grizzly bear habitat, as defined in the bear regulations, and would end on May 25, except in areas that close earlier to all spring black bear hunting. Hound training can continue from May 26 through June 15.

The commission made changes to reporting requirements for bear hunters in FWP Region 1 (northwest Montana). All hunters who harvest a bear in Region 1 are required to report their harvest by phone within 48 hours and submit a premolar tooth from the bear to FWP but do not have to present the hide and skull for inspection as they have in the past. This will help to test a new way of reporting and collecting data for bear harvest. Hunters who harvest black bears elsewhere in the state are required to report the harvest within 48 hours and still submit the hide and skull for inspection in-person by FWP staff within 10 days of harvest as they have in the past.

Deer regulations

The commission adopted hunting district boundary changes proposed by the department as well as some other minor season structure changes. The biggest change to deer regulations will be in FWP Region 2 (western Montana). Here unlimited mule deer permits will be replaced by a general license opportunity, but for only the first three weeks of the general hunting season.

Turkey and upland bird regulations

The commission approved the use of air rifles for forest grouse and fall turkey season. Under new regulations, air rifles must meet certain feet per second requirement and use Performance Ballistic Alloy pellets of .22 or .177 caliber.

The commission also approved a spring general turkey season for FWP Region 4 (central Montana) and eliminated a fall turkey season for Region 4. The commission voted to not extend the pheasant, sharp-tail grouse, partridge, and forest grouse seasons to Jan. 31, so the seasons will stay as they are and close on Jan. 1.

Background on regulation process

FWP and the commission review and update hunting regulations and seasons for most species every two years through a public process. This year that process involved an extra effort by the department to engage the public through two rounds of public comment.

First, the public commented on science-based proposals FWP staff developed with an eye toward simplifying the regulations through a focus on improving elk availability on public land, opportunities for hunters, and reducing elk numbers where they are over objective.

During the first round of public comment this fall, FWP received hundreds of comments submitted online, through email and via virtual meetings. Staff took that input and made some adjustments to the proposals that went back to the commission in December for more review and public comment. The commission approved a set of more formalized draft regulations to go back out for public review at its December meeting.

During the second public comment period from mid-December through mid-January, FWP held meetings around the state, both in-person and virtual, and received more than 1,000 comments on the regulation proposals. At its meeting on Feb. 4, the commission considered those comments in passing the suite of regulations for the 2022 and 2023 hunting seasons.

FWP offers a variety of opportunities for the public to comment on issues, rules, grants, environmental assessments, land acquisitions, development or enhancement projects, hunting and fishing regulations, and more that FWP administers.

Public participation is essential to our processes and decisions. For a list of public comment opportunities, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/public-comment-opportunities. To sign up for FWP news and information updates, visit https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/MTFWP/subscriber/new.