This year Bitterroot hunters have quite a few new options to ponder.
The deadline for elk and deer permits is Thursday, March 15.
Hunters hoping to draw an elk B license, which allows for the harvest of antlerless elk, must apply before June 1. Some elk B licenses will also be offered for sale over the counter.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has an online application process at fwp.mt.gov. An application packet can picked up at FWP offices or hunting license providers.
Some of the changes occurring in the Bitterroot include:
• In HD 260, hunters hoping to take part in an early shotgun season will have an extra two weeks to hunt this year. Hunters with a B license for elk can hunt antlerless elk from Aug. 15 to Aug. 31, mostly on private land. “I recommend that people who want to participate in this hunt already have permission from landowners,” said FWP biologist Rebecca Mowry.
• As part of a regional change, there will also be additional elk B licenses available over the counter in a number of districts. In HD 260, archery hunters can use them during an extended season. In the northern part of the district in Missoula County west of Highway 93, antlerless elk can be harvested with a shotgun or muzzle loader. Those licenses are good only on private land.
• The same types of licenses are valid in HD 261, but there is no special season.
• There are antlerless elk permits available this year for HD 261, which can be used both on private and public lands.
• Mule deer permits in HD 261 and HD 262 were split this year. The goal, Mowry said, is to keep the trophy unit on the public lands in HD 261, while providing additional pressure on the bucks living on mostly private lands in HD 262. Overall the allocation in both districts was increased by five to a total of 40. There will be 25 permits in HD 262 and 15 in HD 261.
“We want to try to encourage the bucks up on 261 where we want them,” she said. “We also want to give landowners more control to deal with game damage problems and reduce demand for trophy bucks in a place where we shouldn’t be having trophy bucks.”
• The region-wide B elk tag available over the counter will also be valid in HD 262 for rifle hunters. FWP is doing away with the special weapons requirement in that district.
“We’re counting on hunters to be safe and not make it so we have to get rid of this tool because hunters can’t shoot safely,” Mowry said. “We heard from a lot of landowners that shotguns and special weapons restrictions was not getting it done. It was resulting in a lot of injured elk and not a lot of successful harvest.”
• The big change in HD 204 is a new shoulder season that will offer private-land B licenses for antlerless elk that will be valid through Feb. 15.
• A shoulder season was also added to HD 240, but B licenses will be not be valid in this district. Instead, hunters will be required to draw a permit for the late season.
“If people just want to put meat in the freezer, I would recommend that they put in for one of these antlerless permits,” Mowry said. “If they don’t get it, they can apply for B licenses. The due date for applying for those licenses is not until June.”
• In HD 250, FWP has added a few additional elk B licenses to address game damage complaints.
• In HD 270, some hunters will find more general license opportunity to hunt antlerless elk. Youth hunters and people with a permit to hunt from a vehicle can harvest cows with a general tag during general season north of Rye Creek.
Anyone with an archery tag can also harvest a cow during archery season. That opportunity includes all of HD 270.
There are elk B licenses offered for two different portions of HD 270 this year. One portion includes the area west side of Highway 93 and the East Fork. The other portion of land is north of Rye Creek. Hunters will need to apply to draw those B licenses.
HD 270 “has always been hard to manage,” Mowry said. “We are trying to manage hunting pressure. It’s such a popular place to hunt. We want to increase the opportunity to harvest a cow, but we don’t want shootouts like we’ve had before.”
There will also be 50 mule deer doe licenses this year in HD 270.