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Which State has the Worst Big Game Reporting?

I have various issues with several states and how they do their reporting, but Montana takes the cake. Two of the last three years, the State has not even counted deer or elk hunters, so there are no unit or controlled hunt success rates posted on their web site for 2016 or 2018. We also hear from hunters all the time that they don’t trust what Montana does report.

Montana uses an antiquated voluntary phone survey. Some hunts like deer hunt 103-50 had zero response to the survey last year. People tell us they lie when asked where they shot their deer. In other cases, online data is wrong. Want to know the success for controlled hunt 270-50? In 2017 the regs listed 45 mule deer controlled permit buck tags and everything else was does or a whitetail general license. But the harvest report lists 1148 mule deer hunters. Oh, but wait. In Montana a hunter with a whitetail general license can shoot a mule deer if he chooses. So, every whitetail hunter is a mule deer hunter. It’s a mess, not to mention the general hunt is at the same time as the controlled hunt that takes several points.

Why no hunter numbers or success rates for 2016 and 2018? I’m told the State’s biologists get together every year and say what data they need to manage wildlife and apparently that doesn’t include hunter numbers or success rates, so to save money they skip information you and I do need. 

This is my primary beef with wildlife departments and nowhere is the problem more egregious than in Montana. Even though they are posted, reports are for biologists, not hunters, even though we need them to apply intelligently and we, for the most part, pay the bills. This needs to change.

I called a couple of Montana Wildlife Commission members, including Richard Stuker, the vice-chairman.  Turns out that in addition to an effort to simplify regulations, he has been on a campaign to get mandatory reporting in Montana but has met with pushback from biologists. One reason is worry about a revenue drop if people cannot apply the following year until they report.

Look, I get that wildlife departments are always strapped for money, but seriously? It takes 5 minutes to report how you did online or by phone. Heck, in Oregon, you don’t even need a paper tag anymore, you can get it on your phone like an airline boarding pass and make your report on the app.

Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah (controlled hunts) all have mandatory reporting. If it’s not done by a certain date, there is a small fine. If it is not done at all, they can’t apply until they do report. I doubt many hunters blow off applying and lose their points over the 5 minutes it takes to report.

Here’s your chance to make a difference. If you live or hunt in Montana contact any of the names below to tell them you want a modern mandatory reporting system that gives you what you need. Even better is if your organization presents a request to the FWP, which is way easier than you think.

Game Management Bureau Chief,

John Vore 406-444-3940, jvore@MT.gov

Wildlife Management Section Chief,

Quentin Kujala 406-444-5672,


Ken McDonald 406-444-5645.

Wildlife Commissioner contact info is at http://fwp.mt.gov/doingBusiness/insideFwp/commission/members.html

About Dave Hoshour

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  1. This doesn’t surprise me. They hire Biologists that don’t even have a Wildlife/Fisheries background that decide seasonal rules and have no experience. The Montana Licensing is another black eye to the department. Apply for a permit hunt with the check box marked return funds if you don’t draw and they keep nearly $200 of you fees.This year now you are also being charged for their boat inspection program in your hunting license. The kicker is if they want more revenue then up your fines for shooting and illegal animal. I cannot believe the number of animals that are shot by mistake in this state and you get a $130 fine. Those fines should be 4 times that amount if you are stupid enough to just shoot at anything without certainty. I wish this state would quit raping the out-of -stater for your increased revenues.

    • Totally agree, been applying for non resident archery elk combination for five years and haven’t been successful, have four points too. I think they blackball hunters, somehow. Each time lose $200.00 for refund unsuccessfully. It’s starting to look like a scam.

    • Turd Ferguson

      You have to have a degree to be a biologist in Montana they don’t just hire anyone. It’s not the biologist that cause the problem it’s the whole FWP catering to the landowners. When all the wildlife hide out on the private ground and no access is granted and those herds keep growing it inflates the numbers for a given area. The game is there the access is not and that’s why we have the shoulder seasons which is a joke. Proper management would involve more cooperation from land owners and opening up more access.

      • A degree yes…. but the in title only Biologist in Gardner has some envirormental degree. First thing she did was cave to the Park service and removed 2 weeks off my elk season. The theory was tourists wanted to see more wolves in the park chewing on something and blood on their faces. It was rumored she doesn’t care for hunting seasons.

  2. Don’t even mention the state with the largest elk herd in the world! Do your research!

  3. I dont even apply anymore. The non-resident game is a joke and I agree the data is poor. The deer and elk license combo? Point system??Too many other western states to apply. Montana is an amazing state with a poorly run GF. Maybe this will wake them up.

  4. I like it the way it is. It keeps you out of staters from crowding the hunting areas and let’s the locals have a better chance. Stay home if you don’t like the way it is ran and worry about your own state.

    • Tom Wind. I am a Non-res with a best friend that lives in Roundup, and I am positive he would agree with my statements.
      There is plenty of opportunity for both res & non.
      BUT, that being said, I think ALL areas should be permit draws due to overcrowding in certain areas. (All hunters should plan better, not just drive around wherever and shoot whatever)
      There certainly needs to be better harvest reporting to manage herds better, and IMPROVE QUALITY of especially mule deer. There is so much great habitat it boggles my mind why there are not bigger bucks all over MT. (Like Nevada or Utah) for instance. Maybe some size restrictions for bucks should even be considered, especially for non-residents. I would be all for it.
      MT asks a premium price, I think the hunt quality should match.
      (And they need to do away with the no jumping a corner post to get to PUBLIC land, whether BLM, NF, or State)

    • Tom Wind. Stay home? Who do you think supports “your” g&f? It’s out of state people. Not to mention I was taught, wrongly, it’s “our” national forest? Just because you live there shouldn’t entitle you to exclusive access, however it seems to work that way. My brother the lawyer says- you want to hunt? Yes. Well shut up and swipe your card, and go!

      • shootbrownelk

        You can do anything you want on National Forests in the western states as a non-resident except hunt or fish, the wildlife belongs to the citizens of the state and not the federal government.

  5. All the tags in Montana are over subscribed. A lot of Hunters are applying and not getting drawn. They are not worried about losing revenue from hunters not applying because they forgot to report. The truth is that they don’t want the public to know just how bad the hunting has become along with a success ratio that has fallen off a cliff. Maybe they can find another large predator to turn loose and propagate in what a short time ago was a Big Game and Wildlife paradise.

  6. Sounds like a lot of boo-hooing about nothing. I love Montana for the fact that it’s not Utah– a state where you’ll likely never draw a second branch-antlered elk permit in your lifetime (if you can get a first); where “quality” management has tanked the entire state for the sake of premium tag prices…where private landowners/outfitters have the DWR in their back pocket and enjoy seasons from August to December for their special clientele, while the regular Joe has to apply for a deer tag to hunt anywhere in the ENTIRE STATE. LONG gone are the days when the deer opener was wide open and schools closed for the occasion. I suggest y’all apply for those “quality” states you so worship. Meanwhile as a Montanan I have more tags for more species than I care to fill; the crowds are elsewhere in states like Utah and no-one gets in a fight (here) over a measly 2-point. Twenty inch four points are a dime a dozen here, and I can get an over the counter elk tag good for a bull or cow and draw a SECOND tag for a cow. PLUS, we get to take our pick of whitetail or mule deer— which ever one is biggest– because you’ll see BOTH all day long. We take our sons and daughters out for their first deer and they can take their pick of 4-points –which is pretty fine considering the kind of deer another state produces for a first-time hunter in an over-crowded general zone. Speaking of draws, heck, I’m racking up points toward my SECOND moose tag— which is a long shot, for sure, but at least there’s a chance. I can put in for sheep, goat, moose and bison— all in one season! Imagine that! I don’t have to restrict myself to just ONE species for a “once-in-a-lifetime” draw with incredibly long odds…like UTAH with all that “quality” management reporting! Antelope tag? No problem. Do it every year. I’m just fine with FWP’s reporting— because I scout all year long and know what’s out there and don’t need some report for trend guessing. I can see how many applicants are lining up for whatever unit I’m interested in –which is all that matters to me…if it matters at all because I got more public land and big-antler hidey holes under the public’s radar. If you don’t like your non-resident fees, then move. Pretty simple. And if you do, don’t expect to make our state into the $h1tH0le you left. Quit crying like we, Montana, owe you out of staters a damn thing.

  7. One Hundred percent agree with Dave’s analysis…! It’s truly a shame when we have some of the most un-interrupted big game habitat in the west, save Wyoming. We’re the only interior western state that continues to offer over the counter general licenses for Mule Deer through the entire month of November and it shows. A few years ago eastern Montana went through a series of hard winters substantially reducing Deer numbers. Afterwards, FWP acknowledged that numbers were well below 40/50% of carrying capacity but then 2 years later miraculously the herds had recovered to normal and thousands of antlerless tags were authorized! Amazing!
    I had a biologist tell me a couple of years ago that it is impossible to mange Antelope. No point in worrying about it because every few years a hard winter will wipe them out, so just keep the allotted tags pretty much constant. Sounds reasonable if your only concern is selling Antelope tags I guess…! It’s easy to settle for mediocre and ride the status quo… Can definitely draw less attention that way….!

  8. Bitch all you want, but EVERYBODY wants to hunt MT. Why?…..because overall they have the most opportunity at the most species. They have the best access and some of the best quality hunting anywhere. You can nit-pick units about this or that, but Montana “blows away” the other western states. And sure, there are areas where things could likely be done better here or there, but overall, Montana is what every one of the other states wishes it could be. We do that my keeping limits on out-of-staters and their “big money” (they like to throw that around and rub it in our faces, especially when they don’t get drawn) and the businesses that like to take advantage of it….we do it ethically by limiting stuff like baiting, game cameras, hound useage on bears, keeping crossbows out of archery season and the elk rut, and a number of other ways. We have kicked out game farms, and thus far avoided “ranching for wildlife” schemes that award large landowners with game tags to sell on the open market. Yeah, the wildlife here belongs to it’s citizens….as it should. Montana is the most complete ecosystem in the lower 48 states – as far as wildlife is concerned…and our herds of elk help to repopulate most of the country with that species. We have our faults and can argue among ourselves – the residents for whom the game is and should be managed, but we still kick all of your collective butts. Count me a proud Montanan and proud of our FWP.

  9. Once you get here, hunt all the public land with everyone else. When you people with all the solutions figure out the hunting world, it will be a non hunting world. Good luck!!

  10. I use to hunt in northwest Montana with a friend that lives there, up until 10 years ago. The game population has plummeted and the price of non-res tags sky rocketed. My friend that lives there and his family haven’t taken an elk in 10 years. The predators have devastated the game herds in that area and it will take longer than I have left to restore them, not that the decision to turn predators loose on them was Montana’s fault. But now they charge more to hunt and less game to be found.
    Their game check points were in established areas and while sitting there checking in, you could see a steady stream of traffic by-passing the check station on a side access road. You only had to stop if you were on the road that the check station was on. Only once did we encounter a spot check out on a forest service road. I could never find out what the harvest numbers were for that area, because the FW&P never knew!
    All of our hunting was done in National Forest and I had to pay about 8 times more to hunt on public land as the folks I was hunting with. IF these animals are considered State owned, there should be an equal fee paid by both res and non-res to hunt them on Federal lands. That’s only fair.

    • shootbrownelk

      Nathan, you said you were hunting on National Forest. The State of Montana’s citizens own the game/fish. The State, not the Federal Government.

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