Finding elk in central MT compared to other states?

MAT

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I've been DIY public land bowhunting elk in CO and WY for 20+ years but I always had an interest in MT, partly because it's closer. The recent thread if MT is worth the price got me thinking again as a combo tag would be cool as I could perhaps do multiple trips. But I don't want to hunt near the griz since I mainly hunt alone so that leaves only eastern/central MT. All the videos I've watched it seems this is more low elevation open country, not the typical high elevation mountain terrain I've hunted before. Finding elk in CO or WY is pretty simple but MT scares me a bit because there are only small isolated mountain ranges compared to CO and WY. Plus I hunt with a trad bow so long shots are not an option. There has to be more hunting than in the actual mountain ranges, right? I know about the CMR wildlife refuge but I'm not really interested in that rat race.

In general what does one look for to narrow down an area to bowhunt elk in central/eastern MT? I'm about to put in for the CO draw as that's easier but I'll never get to MT if I keep doing this.
 

brockel

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Most all the eastern side of the state is a special permit for elk so you'd also have to draw the permit along with your combo
 

Jason Snyder

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There are plenty of places in Montana where you can hunt without a high degree of risk for a grizzly encounter. As far as central MT goes, the Big and Little Snowies both have elk, and both have difficult access. SE Montana has scattered elk, possible limited access, and relatively high hunting pressure.

You could hunt the Highwood Mountains with about zero risk of grizzlies. Same with the Little Belts, north end of the Crazies, Big Belts, and Tobacco Roots. Other ranges adjacent to these carry some risk of grizzlies. I have spent many days in several mountain ranges that have healthy populations of grizzly bears and have not had any problems. That's not to say they can't happen, because they can.
 
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MAT

MAT

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So do you have to actually be "in" the mountains? Most of the hunting videos I've seen of OTC areas it looks open and grassy with more rolling topography and not high in elevation with scattered timber on slopes. It doesn't look like the high country of CO or WY that I equate with typical elk country, i.e. thick dark timber with scattered open parks and rocky peaks. Those ranges are pretty small so I can't see there being many elk, and at best shoulder to shoulder hunters so what am I missing?
 

Jon Boy

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I'd poke around in your research a good bit more. There are many mountain ranges in central MT that are as rugged as anything you'll find in CO and WYO, have zero griz, and not the landscape your describing. A quick google earth overview of the ranges Jason mentioned and you'll find that.
 

squeekieslayer

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I live in central MT. I hunt the Little Belts, Big Belts, Highwoods and the Front.... I truly long for the days when I lived in Wyoming where the mountains were NOT so steep and thick. If you are seeing videos of rolling hills and grasslands they are likely on private ground around the mountain ranges or up in the sweetgrass hills or bears paw where you can probably never draw a tag.

The highwoods and snowies require a special permit to bowhunt and you cannot rifle hunt them with that permit. the rifle tag for the highwoods and snowies are nearly impossible to draw.

Lots of elk in all of the ranges mentioned. Lots of people too. The little belts attract LOTS of NR because they dont have griz..... i would rather see 10 griz than 50 people.

Keep researching, I feel like you have the wrong idea formed about the country out here

Joe
 

missjordan

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I don't see really where you should be too concerned about grizzlies. Just like Jason, I also hunt areas that have a moderate to mediocre grizzly population and have yet to even see a bear, Let alone have an encounter. If your smart and do your homework I would think you would not have a problem. Just be smart and use common sense when it comes to food storage and enjoy your hunt.


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sneaky

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So do you have to actually be "in" the mountains? Most of the hunting videos I've seen of OTC areas it looks open and grassy with more rolling topography and not high in elevation with scattered timber on slopes. It doesn't look like the high country of CO or WY that I equate with typical elk country, i.e. thick dark timber with scattered open parks and rocky peaks. Those ranges are pretty small so I can't see there being many elk, and at best shoulder to shoulder hunters so what am I missing?
I agree with everyone else, you have the wrong perception of MT mtn ranges. I covered MT for work for a couple of years, I've been to every corner of it. There's plenty of country there that will humble you real quick, even without Grizzlies. Perhaps you should do a long weekend scouting trip over the summer. I think it would be eye opening for you. Any range you decide on, if you want to get away from people you can....in the parts that are tough to access.
 
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MAT

MAT

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The Western Hunter TV series had a few hunts in MT in areas as I described. I'm pretty sure they were non-draw areas. I'll go back and look but in season 2? Nate was hunting dark timber where he missed a bull then moved to another area that was very open (and foggy). And I'm sure I just saw another hunt he went on in season 3 that looked like the same open grassy area (haven't watched season 4 yet). I know it's all public land and realize they'll never tell you exactly where they are at but it would be helpful if they were to give a general idea. After all it's a hunting magazine that's supposed to be educational. There have been other shows where they are elk hunting in MT that doesn't look like it's "in the mountains" or all that humbling but the off road distances might be more than a mile or two. And that's not the exception, it seems to be the rule?
 

Jon Boy

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Again, you need to do some more research. Your under the wrong impression from watching a tv show. I would quit worrying about where nate was and do some research. Just a little bit of effort and you'll soon be over whelmed at the opportunities your looking for.

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Logan T

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Not quite sure why so many people think Montana is a cake walk when it comes to terrain. Unlike CO, most of the roads in our "little" mountains don't go up to 9,10 or 11,000 feet. Therefore if you want to get to what is commonly thought of the alpine or high country, you are hiking 4-5,000 vertical feet.
 

Beendare

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Jason, Squeekie and the other guy pretty much nailed it on Mt. It is different from say Co,WY where there is a huge contiguous mtn range. MT is broken up into smaller mtn ranges interspersed with big valleys of ag or pasture ground between them....still plenty of mtns to hunt. Almost all of the good valley ground is private....which creates a situation of pressured elk moving into private rather quickly.

There is the rare Grizz roaming around even in areas they never were before...so plan accordingly. Local buddies I know spotted a grizz moving across private ground near the belts west of WSS.

Almost ALL of the problems you hear of with Grizz is with a 50 mile radius of Yellowstone.

I've hunted every western state for elk [except Nv but I've hunted that many times for deer in elk areas] and I think of the states with gen tags, Wy has the least amount of hunter pressure...at least in archery season...I can't speak to the rifle seasons.
 
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MAT

MAT

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I'm not worried where other people are hunting at, I'm only trying to figure out their hunting strategy. One key aspect is trying to figure out what is good elk hunting terrain in MT and so far the only thing I have is videos. Again, it looks to me like it's different than CO or WY. Once I know what to look for google earth, maps and other research begins. There's a fear of showing up and finding out there's few if any elk. Or climbing 4,000 feet just to find out there's good hunting lower in elevation. I don't have that same fear in CO or WY, where I've gone in blind many times and always found elk. Actually hunting more open terrain I see in these videos where it's more spot and stalk has an appeal to me.
 

Beendare

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.... There's a fear of showing up and finding out there's few if any elk. Or climbing 4,000 feet just to find out there's good hunting lower in elevation. I don't have that same fear in CO or WY, where I've gone in blind many times and always found elk. ....
You are describing my MT hunt last year! We checked out multiple areas recommended by local buddies. Or 10 mile RT in 4 different drainages [an area west of Philipsburg] the first day resulted in only a couple bugling bulls...that would bugle once and stop. Thats just elk hunting. It was excellent habitat on GE....but the few elk had been pressured.

I like GE but from my experience guys might be putting too much emphasis on finding good habitat. I've seen it plenty of times where I found a good looking spot on GE....but the elk were in another spot that I wouldn't have guessed from GE. GE doesn't tell you how many guys are hunting it....and THAT is the #1 factor, IMHO. It doesn't tell you where the wolves are haranging them, etc.

I can tell you that there are areas of MT, ID where the elk have modified their habitat from just 10 years ago....for example utilizing wide open sage bowls more and more instead of timber....as a buffer from wolves.
 

907to406

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The last 7 years I've hunted some pretty heavily populated griz country, last year alone I had 9 encounters one which resulted in discharging my pistol at about 15 yards (warning shot right over the bears head) this resulted in the bear slowly turning and ambling away. This being said, wouldn't let the bears stop me from hunting where I want many of the times solo. Carry bear spray and or a side arm and know how to use it. I've never had an issue with a bear coming into camp or tearing anything up. Manly just calling them in or seeing them while out hunting. Point of this being hunt where you want to and where the elk are and land is accessible. Good luck!
 

ndbwhunter

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I was in the same boat a few years ago. All of the hunting shows and YouTube videos gave me the wrong impression. Once I started looking at google earth and other online scouting tools, my outlook changed completely. The vast majority of the rolling hills with patches of timber is located on private land. Sure, there is some public land with the features that you've described, but access to that is usually limited and will typically require a trespass fee. All of the information described above is very accurate. If you're looking for steep, rugged and remote terrain, you'll find it in all of the areas described.
 

Jason Snyder

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Again, you need to do some more research. Your under the wrong impression from watching a tv show. I would quit worrying about where nate was and do some research. Just a little bit of effort and you'll soon be over whelmed at the opportunities your looking for.

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Good advice here. Yes, there are some rolly polly grassland hills that have good elk hunting. I haven't seen the show so I won't even begin to speculate where they were. With all due respect, you are completely overthinking stuff here. Get a tag, take 10 days and go get lost in the mountains somewhere. If you put utilize sound principles for finding elk, and put forth solid effort, you will find them.

Edit: As a funny aside, one year a buddy and I were sitting on a ridgeline at about 8500 feet. I was glassing some sage flats WAAAY below us, and watched a small 6x6 walk out of one aspen clump in into another one a few hundred yards away. He never left that other patch for as long as we sat there. Elk are where you find them.
 
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MAT

MAT

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Thanks, I have a tendency to overthink everything :). BTW - Are there any maps that show the general areas for deer and elk? I assume they are not the same for archery and bow?

EDIT: Found it on the hunt planner.
 
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ndbwhunter

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Thanks, I have a tendency to overthink everything :). BTW - Are there any maps that show the general areas for deer and elk? I assume they are not the same for archery and bow?

EDIT: Found it on the hunt planner.
Use the hunt planner to identify the unit(s) that you want to hunt, as well as each unit's restrictions (they vary from unit to unit). From there, narrow down your general area, and use GE and/or Hillmap - Backcountry Maps for the Obsessed to do the rest.
 

Montanated

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As a fellow partaker in an excursion or two with Snyder he hit the nail on the head with the statement "that the elk are where you find them".

Remember you can always believe what you see on a heavily edited TV show and the internet....

You will find elk high, low and everywhere in between. So some reading about habits and what sign to look for, working thermals and the like.

With the chance of inflating his head Jason also has good advice on just take ten days and get out there. Get off the trail and away from the people.

Having hunted in a territory ruined by a TV or magazine where the weather choked people together, you can still find the animals, you just need to work harder. And expect to get foaled up a time or two with the possibility of seriously kicking out too. Nothing teaches you better than getting out there and doing it. And nothing will ruin your spot faster than loose lips.

Realize your comfort zone and choose one of the ranges accordingly. Elk aren't any different from whitetail in WI in the sense that they need cover, water and food, keeping in mind that they cover twice the ground easily to reach those sources. Hot days will move them to the cool side and heavy snow will push them from the high ground...the fun and frustrating animal I have ever hunted.

Being a moderate over thinker myself often coming to the point of decision paralysis, I have come to the conclusion just get out there and try it you will learn something for the next time and won't regret it unless you don't go.

Keep in mind that you don't need every dang tool gadget and gizmo talked about in these threads either. My first elk I shot with an outdated bow and hauled out with little more than a school bag, albeit something I do not want to repeat, just don't think you need head to toe Kuiu, Sitka or the like gear....the elk don't care. Spend the dollars on good boots, a good tent and make sure you have your survival gear lined out and win you no matter how far from camp you are going. Bear spray is essential as there are limited people that could keep it together enough to do any good with a firearm worth its salt against a pissed off bear.

As other have said plenty of areas here, get your gps on, get out, get away and hunt...
 
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