Hunting is one of the most popular recreational activities here in Montana. To ensure your safety and remain compliant with the law, it’s essential to understand local hunting rules and regulations.
Here’s everything you need to know about Montana hunting laws as of 2017.
Montana Hunting Tags
A hunting tag is a license or permit allowing you to hunt a specific animal and species. You must always have a valid tag for the area you are hunting when hunting in Montana.
In some Montana regions, hunting tags are specific to a particular species and/or sex of species. In other words, a general over-the-counter tag is not valid for specific species and/or sex of species in some areas. Some tags you need to apply for, others use a lottery system. Always consult hunting regulations to identify the type of species you’re hunting for. Also, make sure you have the correct tag for your region.
A recent change in Montana hunting law has to do with tag validation. Tag validation is the process of punching or physically removing the actual date on a hunting tag with the date you harvested your animal. You must then leave the validated tag on the “largest part” of the carcass of the animal.
Montana law previously required you to validate a tag immediately after killing the animal, before harvesting the meat. However, the wording on this law has changed. As of 2017, hunters must now validate their tag before the hunter leaves the carcass, not necessarily immediately.
This change in verbiage gives you some extra time to field dress your animal or take care of it before having to validate your tag.
Where to Place the Tag
Once you’ve harvested your animal, Montana laws requires you to affix your tag on the largest portion of the carcass, making it clearly visible. Many people are taught to place the tag on the antlers of a male animal. However, that may not be legal if larger portions of the carcass remain intact.
If you’re quartering or boning the animal, look for the largest leftover part of the carcass (whatever this may be) and secure your tag there. If you’re leaving the animal whole, you can attach the tag anywhere on the body, as long as it’s visible.
Leave Evidence of Sex Attached
Make sure to maintain evidence of sex attached to the carcass. If your carcass is found and checked by a game warden, they must be able to verify the sex of the species.
Hunting Permits & Trespassing
According to Montana law, if you want to hunt on private property, you must have permission from the landowner. This includes block management lands (BMA) and areas open to the public but owned by private landowners.
This means following any regulations and requirements set by the property owner. For example, a landowner may have a condition that requires you to sign in before you are allowed access their property. Thus, you don’t have permission, until you complete the owner’s conditions for access.
What if you shoot your animal but it runs off onto private property? Can you go retrieve it? The answer is: not without landowner permission. You’re not allowed to retrieve your animal on private property without permission.
You must always have expressed written permission from a landowners to hunt or retrieve an animal on their property, otherwise you will be trespassing.
Montana Hunting Hours
In Montana, legal shooting hours for both bows and guns starts 30 min before sunrise and ends 30 minutes after sunset. Check your daily tables because these times change on a daily basis.
Hunter Orange Requirements
During the general season (also called rifle season), you must wear least 400 square inches of orange above your waist. The orange color needs to be clearly visible and not hidden with camo or a backpack. Orange colored wardrobe items can include:
- Hats and beanies
- Face masks
Bow hunting season (also known as archery equipment season) does not have any clothing color requirements. You don’t have to wear any orange during this time.
Legal Hunting Weapons
It’s important to understand what types of weapons are legal to use for hunting in Montana. Some have surprising definitions and requirements. Here’s what you need to know.
You can use any caliber of rifle– whether it’s a handgun or shotgun. Thanks to a recent change in the law, there are no longer any restrictions on magazines or ammunition capacity. You can have as many rounds as you want in your gun.
There are also no longer any restrictions on semi-automatic or AR-15 style weapons.
According to Montana law, the legal definition of a bow is:
- It shoots arrows
- It is hand drawn
- It is at least 28” in length
- It has a maximum letoff of 80%
A crossbow does not meet the legal definition and so is not allowed during bow hunting season.
Hunting with a bow that does not conform to these requirements is illegal.
There are also rules about the type of arrows you use.
Arrows must be at least 20 inches long, including the broadhead. Additionally, an arrow cannot be less than 300 grains (weight), including the broadhead. Anything lighter than this is an illegal arrow in Montana
Although some states don’t allow them, expandable broadheads are perfectly legal in Montana.
This year, the state of Montana changed the law to allow illuminated nocks during archery season. Illuminated nocks can help you find and harvest your animal, so this change is a great benefit to hunters.
Illegal Bow Electronics
According to the law, it is illegal to have any battery-powered electronics on your bow. This includes sight lights and lasers.
As a reminder, crossbows are not defined as archery equipment in Montana. You can not use a crossbow during archery equipment season. Crossbows are however, legal during the general season (rifle season).
Size Requirement for Big Game (Bucks, Bulls, Females)
There are certain rules about what animals you can legally take, based on size and sex.
A buck or “antlered” (male deer) is defined as having antlers at least 4 inches in length. Anything less is considered an antlerless or doe (female) deer. However, if a buck has antlers less than 4 inches, then legally it’s a doe or is technically “antlerless.”
In Montana, Elk are legally classified as either a brow-tined, spike, or antlerless/cow. Consult your regulations, as there are rules about what type of elk you can take based on the area you’re hunting.
- Antlered or Brow-tined Elk: Defined as having visible branch antlers off the main beam, located on the lower half of the antlers. The tine(s) must be at least 4 inches long.
- Antlerless/cows: Defined as a female elk or a male elk antlers less than 4 inches from the skull.
- Spike: Defined as having antlers that don’t branch. Or, if they do branch, they are less than 4 inches.
Illegal Hunting Activity in Montana
There are a variety of general hunting methods that are illegal in Montana. These include:
- Aerial spotting by craft (airplane, helicopter) or drone.
- Artificial light (spotlighting, flashlights after shooting hours, etc.).
- No baiting of any species (salt, food, etc).
- Electronic game calls.
- Shooting from a roadway.
- Wasting game meat defined as “suitable for food.” This generally means all of the quarters and meat above the hock.
If you follow the above rules and regulations, you’re going to have a great hunting season in Montana.
Are you confused about any of these hunting laws or have questions about hunting in Montana? Give us a call!
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.