That Thing Called Elk Hunting


To those who don’t hunt, it can be hard to understand the strength and depth of the passion known as Elk Hunting.

Even among hunters, the hold elk hunting has on its adherents sometimes can be difficult to fathom. The current elk shoulder season is a case in point.

The shoulder season idea is new. It’s meant to reduce elk populations on private land outside of the general and archery seasons. Hunting for antlerless elk can start as early as Aug. 15 and run as late as Feb. 15.

Right now, for the general public, it’s taking place in four hunting districts in central Montana between Great Falls and White Sulphur Springs. Next year, shoulder seasons may take place in 44 hunting districts statewide.

Since this season began Nov. 30, Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been inundated with queries from elk hunters. The word tsunami would not be too strong to portray the interest.

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The elk shoulder season, which has turned out to be extremely popular, is meant to reduce the number of elk on private land.

After two days of frustrated dialing, a woman finally got through, looking for a place to hunt. She needed to get her 92-year-old father out soon to get an elk because the family had just put him in Hospice.

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The best guess is that at one point on the first day of this shoulder season calls were pouring in at an average of 100 an hour. In the first week, thousands – thousands! – of people called, emailed or walked into an FWP office, mostly in Great Falls.

Still surprised at the enthusiasm?

Think of it this way: at least 100,000 people each year buy a Montana elk license. Of those, about 20,000 to 25,000 get an elk during either the archery season or the rifle season. That leaves up to 80,000 or more hunters who on Nov. 30 focused on four hunting districts.

If just one-fourth of that 80,000 act on that interest, well you can do the math. But that’s a lot of hunters for four hunting districts, especially when many of those hunters have never been to the four districts, though that doesn’t diminish their fervor.

Like the woman from the northwest corner of Montana, who called the FWP Great Falls office to say she and her husband had just bought the necessary antlerless licenses: “Now, where do we go?”

Actually substitute northwest corner of Montana for Hamilton, Miles City, Billings, and more than half a dozen states from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean, and you start to understand where these true believers are coming from.

And many are looking for a short, easy hunt.

There was the fellow from Seeley Lake, in western Montana, who said he could only drive down for one day. What’s the closest place to shoot an elk?

Elk hunting is hard. The animals are wary, big and often live, or get pushed by hunting pressure, into remote areas miles from any road.

A wise, old man (aren’t all old men wise?) told me once there is no such thing as an easy elk; some are just easier than others.

Look, if elk hunting is your passion, your religion, and you are determined to make this shoulder season pilgrimage, then plan on scouting, seeking advice and asking permission.

Maybe if you knock, the door shall be opened.