In Montana, hunting isn’t just a hobby or a sport. It’s a way of life.
In the past year, there have been many updates to Montana hunting law. Some of them are a little confusing. Marty Judnich, trusted Montana lawyer and an outdoorsman himself, is here to explain the new changes to Montana hunting laws and what they mean for you.
As a responsible hunter, knowing the law is your duty.
Don’t get caught by the game warden and then say, “I didn’t know!”
Let’s start with the basics
Over the years, the lawyers at the Judnich Law Office have heard from many hunters facing fines, citations, and even jail time for breaking hunting laws in Montana. Let’s take a close look at some of the most common transgressions and how to hunt within the law.
“What time can I start hunting? As soon as I can see clearly?”
In the state of Montana you can legally hunt from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset. Use published sunrise and sunset tables to stay within the law — don’t estimate. Game wardens are particularly aware of these times and you will get caught if they hear gunshots outside of legal hunting hours.
“What do I need to do with my license and tag? Can I just leave them at home for safekeeping?”
Absolutely not! Your license must be on your person when you are hunting. Don’t leave it in the glovebox of your truck and definitely don’t leave them at home.
“I’m not going to be able to get out this season. Can my buddy use my tag?”
No! Montana hunting laws prohibit you from lending your license or your tag to let someone else harvest game for you. That’s 100% illegal. Don’t do it!
“How do I validate my tag?”
When you harvest an animal, you validate the tag on that day. For example if you harvest an animal today but retrieve it the next day, the validation date is the day you harvested it.
Montana Hunting Law Update #1:
Here’s our first update. When hunting in Montana you must attach the validated tag to the animal before:
- The carcass is removed from the kill site OR
- Before the hunter leaves the kill site
So let’s say you harvest your elk right before dark, field dress it, and then leave for the night, planning to return for it early the next morning. Since you left the kill site, you must attach the validated tag before you leave.
You can’t remove the tag from the carcass until the meat is consumed. Better safe than sorry, so just leave that tag on any animal you harvest.
“Can I hunt on private land?”
Yes, but you must get permission before you start hunting. No shooting first and then asking for permission later.
“I got cited and fined for hunting on private land but it wasn’t posted. Can I get out of it?”
No. Knowing the owner of the land you’re hunting on is your responsibility. Get yourself onX hunting maps to show public and private lands.
“If I shoot an animal while hunting on public lands but it dies on private lands, what should I do?”
Just like hunting on private lands, retrieving an animal from private lands requires permission in advance. You can’t just go grab it.
If you have trouble getting permission from the landowner, contact Montana Fish & Wildlife. They want people to hunt legally and they want people to harvest animals. They’ll help you out.
“Can I use a spotlight to hunt at night?”
No! When hunting in Montana, you can’t use any artificial light like a spotlight. No artificial light or infrared scope/sight can be on your rifle.
“I just got a new crossbow. Can I use it during archery season?”
According to Montana’s hunting laws, crossbows are “non-archery” weapons because you’re not physically drawing them and because they have a gun stock. Do not use your crossbow during Montana’s archery season.
“I got a new game camera. How can I use it legally?”
You can use your game camera but you can’t:
- Use video to track animal movement while hunting
- Use motion sensors to track or identify animals
- Use real-time video — this includes drones which we’ll talk more about soon
“My buddy used a recorded call while hunting mountain lions. Can I use an elk call I recorded during my elk hunt?”
Nope. In Montana, hunters can only use recorded sounds during predator hunts. They can’t be used in big game hunts.
“Is it legal to carry and use a walkie-talkie when out hunting in Montana?”
Yes — but just like everything there are some exceptions.
The only reason you should use a walkie-talkie while hunting is for safety and emergency communications. It’s illegal to use one to:
- Find game or get an advantage while hunting
- Avoid game check stations
- Aid in unlawful activities (duh!)
“I saw a buck without antlers. Is that the same as hunting a doe?”
In Montana hunting law, the regulations differentiate between “antlered” and “antlerless” animals, not does and bucks.
For elk there are 3 categories of animals:
- Brow-tined elk – The big boys everyone wants to hunt. Look for branched spikes over 4” from the main beam
- Spike elk – Elk whose spikes don’t branch and that are less than 4” from the main beam
- Cows – Any animal without antlers or whose antlers don’t meet the definitions of brow-tined or spike elk
Now for the updates
New for 2019: No explosives can be used in broadhead tips. Fixed-blade and expandable broadheads are both still legal.
New for 2019: No battery powered gadgets or electronics on your bow or arrow. No lit sights.
- You can use a lighted nock on your arrows. These are super handy and make it easy to see and retrieve arrows and game in low light situations.
- You can mount a video camera on your bow for the sole purpose of filming your hunt. Using it to find game or aid in the hunt is illegal.
New for 2019: Aircraft laws have changed significantly because of drones. Aircraft and drones can’t be used to:
- Hunt the same day. Wait a day to hunt after spotting game with a drone or in a helicopter.
- Share information with hunters on the same day. Don’t give your buddy tips on what you saw with your drone!
- Drive, stir up, or push animals for any reason.
- Most importantly, drones can’t be used to film a hunt. So don’t use that cool new drone to make an epic hunting video to post on YouTube! You will get caught!
So that’s it. Enjoy your time in the outdoors this year. If you get in trouble for breaking a hunting law in Montana, we can help. Contact the Judnich Law Office. We offer a free and confidential consultation and are always here to help.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.