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Montana: Moose/Sheep/Goat Update

Photo By: Mike Eastman

With the Montana Moose, Sheep, Goat deadline fast approaching I want to take a look at the status of each species over the past 10 years and what the strong and weak points are now for 2022. 

Let’s start with moose. They have been proven to be a relatively fragile species in Montana and the numbers of tags allocated for them in Big Sky country has steadily been declining the last 10 years. In 2011, 443 moose licenses were authorized for hunting. 2011 was about the middle of the decline of moose in Montana which really started in the early 2000s when wolves really took off across the state, not to mention the ever growing grizzly bear population. 

Moose are found throughout the state but the western half is the core of moose habitat in Montana. In 2021, there were 326 total moose licenses allocated. That is a decline in 117 over the last decade. Which doesn’t seem like a lot but, but that reflects ¼ of the population vanishing across the landscape. Overall, the largest decline has been in Region 3 and studies have shown it is because of a heart worm. Regions 1 and 2 have experienced slight declines as well with Region 4 on the uptick. That’s right, populations have been on the uptick in north-central Montana where calf survival has been the best. 

Biologists have noted that moose seem to be doing better in newer habitats like Regions 4 and 6 that didn’t historically hold moose compared to moose strongholds that have held moose for several decades like Regions 1, 2, and 3. Also Region 6 has been on the uptick which is the highline all the way into eastern Montana. I suspect moose are trickling in from the West, North, and the East making for an interesting moose hunt in wide open country. 

There are 9 tags available in Region 6 for 2022. The vast majority of moose units drawing odds are 1% or less with a couple touching the 2% chance area. Yes, bonus points do play a role, but due to the fact there are so many applicants, those points really have little effect on your chances to draw a tag. For example, I have 21 nonresident moose points. Last year there were 14 tags drawn by nonresidents. Those points are squared and for the majority of the tags I still have less than a 7% chance to draw a tag and if I am any bit selective on what area I apply for with decent trophy quality, I still have less than a 5% chance to draw a tag. Imagine what your odds are if you have less than 10 points! It’s 2% or less with 10 points for most tags available. For residents it’s a different story. Since Montana allocates 90% of its licenses to residents there were 312 available last year and if you are holding 10 points you will have 5% or less odds to draw a tag. Most of the coveted areas will have 2% or less odds. If you have 5 or less points you have less than 1% chance. 

Goats are next on the list of trophy animals that have been declining in Montana. Like moose, the last 10 years have been rough for them. Most notability the Crazy Mountains have experienced a crash in populations going from 69 tags offered down to 15 either sex and 5 nanny tags in 2022. Region 1 has been declining as well as Region 2. Regions 3 and 4 have been mixed. Some districts have been doing okay and some have been on the downward trend. Region 5 has been holding its own as of late. In 2011, there were 296 goat licenses issued and 177 total tags were issued in 2021. This indicates that Montana has lost over half its population in the last decades. Yikes! 

Like moose, biologists say that goats are declining in most of their native areas and areas that have had goats for several decades. No one really knows why. It seems to be more of a natural cycle. Odds to draw a tag are much like moose. I have 15 points and my odds are less than 2% chance for ⅔ of the units nonresidents are eligible to apply for. The same goes for residents since there are so few tags and so many applicants. Odds run less than 5% for about half the units available with 15 points. Some of the easier to draw tags in the state if you are a resident with 15 points are units 329, 316, and 323 with around a 15% chance because they have the most tags available. 

Last but not least are bighorn sheep. In 2011, there were 508 sheep tags sold and in 2021 there were 671 sold. Tag allocations have fluctuated largely in the last decade because of interest in the unlimited area which I will touch on briefly. Overall, sheep aren’t doing great in Big Sky country because of pneumonia in Regions 1 and 2. Regions 3, 4, 5 and 6 have been doing so-so with Regions 4 and 6 faring the best. These two regions have the Missouri Breaks which are famous for large bighorn rams. Overall, quality has been slipping as the best rams are targeted every year by some of the best hunters in the country. Some of the big boys slip through the cracks for next year’s crop but it’s becoming less and less. 

Thankfully the herds are doing well, rams grow fast and populations are over objective. There are still rams over 180” taken every year. These might be the hardest tags to draw on the planet. If you have max points (21) as a resident, you’re still at a <2% chance to draw. Non-residents have much worse odds at .3% with 21 points. There are no easy to draw areas so I do suggest you apply for an area you have intel in and if you don’t care about trophy quality, consider the unlimited sheep hunts.

Unlimited hunts take place in Regions 3 and 5. These areas operate on a quota system. Anyone can buy a tag but once the quota is filled the season is over. 303 is unlimited as well as 500, 501, and 502. On average it takes five seasons of hunting to get these very tough unlimited areas figured out but I highly recommend you have some prior intel or someone to take you before you dive into the challenge. A 160s ram is big for these areas while the rest of the state’s districts should produce at least a 170 ram.

About Dan Pickar

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