Montana Region By Region Hunt Strategy for Deer and Elk-Dan Pickar
Region 1 comprises the northwest part of the state from the Canadian border south to Missoula and the Flathead Indian Reservation. Elk and deer numbers have been on the decline in most 100 districts largely due to the number of predators. DIY hunting is the most difficult here compared to any other part of the state. Sparse elk populations can be found in all three forks of the Flathead River drainage and headwaters. The Cabinet mountains, Swan Valley and the Bob Marshall Wilderness all hold elk. Perhaps your best bet to harvest an elk in Region 1 is with an outfitter in “the Bob”. These are not trophy hunts as most hunters are looking to just kill a bull but it seems like someone takes a 350 bull every year. Lots of wolves and grizzlies reside in the Bob but the wolves have been hunted hard the past several years so your main foe is the grizzly bear.
The DIY hunting will be a struggle for the first timer on public land in this region. Plan on hiking and more hiking. Find areas above treeline during archery season, glass what you can and chase bugles if possible. This is thick country so glassing isn’t always effective. Be prepared to beat the brush and struggle.
The Flathead River drainages have a lot of alder, mountain maple and other brush that makes navigation difficult. Stick to old logging roads, logging units and ridgelines if you plan on traveling or south and west facing slopes where brush may be a little more sparse. Logging units are often the best feed in really thick country so always check them, especially during rifle season. The Bob Marshall Wilderness portion of the Flathead River system is the best elk habitat.
The Cabinet Mountain area and the far northwest portion of Region 1 is similar to the Flathead River system with plenty of public access and not many animals. Lots of alder, devils club, ferns, and brush that make traveling extremely difficult. Stick to trails and logging roads. Check the burns and alpine during archery season or early in rifle on a year that doesn’t have snow.
The Clark Fork River system offers a little better elk country and there are better numbers in the regions than further north. Logging units are common, as are burned areas, which provide the best elk habitat. There are a high density of predators here as well but the habitat is a little better overall than most of Region 1.
The mule deer in Region 1 are also struggling. High predator numbers and habitat loss are the main factors. Mule deer are browsers so they do best in burns and on south facing slopes where there is decent forage. The Swan Range, Whitefish Range and Mission Range all have mule deer above treeline if you can find suitable habitat. Slides and brushy ridges are the best areas but also concentrate around the burns. Most of Region 1 is general deer except the Mission Range which is by permit only. Finding a 160” type buck is expected but it seems like it’s getting more and more rare to find a mule deer over 180” in Region 1.
Whitetail hunting has also declined tremendously over the last 20 years as well. “The Swan” used to be world famous for the whitetail bucks it would produce but it just doesn’t have the deer it used to. Over-hunting and predators are the suspect here as the best whitetail habitat is down low in logging units. This doesn’t mean you won’t find a buck to shoot on public land but the quality of hunting is just way down.
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