Hunting Montana Mule Deer

By Tyler Ferris, October 2015

Montana is an absolutely awesome state due to its abundant hunting opportunities which it offers to the avid public land Mule deer hunter, with any type of country you could imagine for hunting Mule deer, a gracious 3-month season that covers both archery and rifle, and the ability to hunt these mature bucks with some excellent dates, putting you smack dab in the middle of the rut. Putting a Montana Mule deer tag in your pocket every fall is easy.

There are two options – you can either apply for one of the special draw units (these units up your chances at hunting a few better bucks) or you can apply for one of the general licenses. Every year, these general licenses are usually undersold, so once the draws are done, you can typically purchase one as a leftover tag over-the-counter.

The state best known as “Big Sky Country” is also known for its wide variety of beautiful and wild landscapes that stretch from the steep Rocky Mountains along the Idaho/Canadian border in the northwest corner of the state to the stunning Rocky Mountain front and the rolling foothills country covered in sage and partially timbered ridges and draws of south and central Montana all the way out to the vast sage-covered flats, winding coulees, clay buttes, muddy creek/river drainages, juniper draws, and agricultural land of eastern Montana. There is definitely some type of terrain that fits the needs and abilities of every hunter.

Almost the entire western side of the state is made up of public land, while the central part of the state is about 40:60 public to private land and the eastern part is roughly 20:80 public to private land. The eastern half of the state definitely holds some of the best overall numbers of animals as well as awesome genetics. If you are a self-guided hunter, some serious research will be required to be successful in the east. Some other options while trying the eastern half of the state out can be to try and gain some private access or book a guided hunt through a reputable outfitter. Either of those options can greatly increase your odds of putting a big mature buck down.

A majority of the state offers a general season hunt for Mule deer. There are only a few exceptions in the western half, several in the central part, and one unit in the eastern half of the state; these are known as Special Draw Units. These units have extremely tough draw odds but tend to hold some better trophy quality bucks, with 180-190" bucks typically being top end, although better bucks are harvested out of the units. Also, it’s not uncommon to see giant bucks being harvested from every corner of the state. You just never really know where the next big buck will pop up. These trophy bucks are not easy to find and tend to be well-earned. Being able to locate and harvest one of these big mature bucks on public ground can prove to be a daunting task. A lot of legwork will be needed in order to put a good one on the ground.

The general season in Montana differs slightly from a lot of the surrounding western states as it allows you to not only chase both Whitetail and Mule deer with the same tag for practically 3 months straight, but during that 3-month season you will also be able to take full advantage of hunting Mule deer during all of the different phases of the season, not to mention you also get to be hunting during the peak of the rut. That’s prime time for putting a bruiser to rest. The archery season stretches from September 5- October 18, 2015 with a quick-to-follow rifle season that starts on October 24th and runs until November 29th.

For the 2015 season, all of the "Deer Only Combo" and "Big Game Combo" tags are, unfortunately, sold out. In years past, you could typically purchase one of these deer tags as a leftover after the initial drawing had taken place. The Deer Only Combos usually sell out in June or July of each year, and the Big Game Combos usually sell out by August. This year, they went rather quickly, so in the future, either apply in the draw or pick up a leftover tag directly following the drawing.

Start planning ahead if hunting deer in Montana is something that sparks your interest. Please feel free to give us a call here at the office at 435-865-1020. We would be more than happy to help line out your next hunt. We work with some amazing outfitters who are leasing phenomenal pieces of land, and there are plenty of great self-guided options for every style of hunter.