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June 2024
Author: Eric Bachofner

As draw hunt opportunities in the West become increasingly difficult to come by each year, it is becoming more important to understand and to be taking advantage of some of the easier to draw hunts that are available. This is especially true for those looking to go on a hunt every year. One of these opportunities is Montana’s general elk and/or deer combination license. By participating in the preference point system, applicants can

expect to be working a Montana general hunt into their fall schedule every other year. One of the best things about hunting on a general license is that it is valid in most districts for each of the archery, any legal weapon, and traditional muzzleloader season dates. Between the three weapon options, hunters are allowed over three months to be in the field each fall. With such a wide range of weapon choices, dates to hunt, and available districts to hunt in, narrowing down a game plan for your general hunt can be a confusing undertaking. This article is intended to help in clearing up and understanding what opportunities are available to you with a combination license in your pocket. Its focus will be from the standpoint of what we take most of our member calls about – what areas of the state can be hunted on the archery or any legal weapon season for browtined bull or buck mule deer on the general license.

It’s worth noting that Montana uses the term “General Season Dates” in their hunting regulations when referring to what we prefer to call “Any Legal Weapon Season Dates.” The terms “General License” and “General Season Dates” have absolutely nothing to do with each other when referred to in the district tables of Montana FWP’s hunting regulations. For simplicity, I will use the term any legal weapon season in this article instead of general season dates.


When applying for general elk or deer in Montana, you may apply for one of the following license options – the Big Game Combination, the Elk Combination, or the Deer Combination. The Big Game Combination includes a general deer license, a general elk license, upland bird (excluding turkey), and a season fishing license. The Elk Combination includes all of the above except the deer license, and the Deer Combo includes everything above except for the elk license. The term Combination leads to a lot of confusion and is only used because the upland bird and fishing license are included with your elk and/or deer license. Bottom line, upland bird and fishing aside, if you have a Big Game Combo, you have two separate licenses, one valid for general elk and one valid for general deer, and you may harvest one of each. With an Elk Combo, you only have a general elk license, and with a Deer Combo, you only have a general deer license. When drawn for a general license, you may hunt any open general district if you are using the weapon allowed within its legal dates. You are not tied to a specific district or weapon choice with a general elk or deer license.


Statewide, there are a total of 138 elk districts covering over 125,000 square miles in Montana. Of these, 110 can be hunted for browtined bulls on the general archery- only season and 104 can be hunted for browtined bulls on the general any legal weapon season dates. FWP’s definition of a browtined bull is any elk having an antler or antlers with a visible point on the lower half of either main beam that is at least four inches long. By this definition, a spike with a four-inch browtine would be a legal browtined bull. There are several different classifications of what type of elk is allowed for harvest in each hunting district in the state. To simplify the general elk district maps and to help narrow down the type of hunts that most hunters are looking for, we have created two separate maps, one for archery- only general elk districts and another for any legal weapon general elk districts. Omitted from the maps are any districts that are valid for only cow or spike harvest on the general license or have a very low population of elk and aren’t worth considering on your hunt.

Montana does not have a mandatory harvest reporting requirement for elk or deer, and as a result, the data conveyed in their harvest reports is so inconcise that it can be more misleading than beneficial in researching a particular hunt. With the help of these general district maps to give you an overview of the units you should consider hunting, we recommend a few more steps to help you narrow down your search. Skip using the harvest report information provided on FWP’s website. Instead, look over the included elk population objective map to help line up the type of hunt you are after on the general elk districts maps with a district that is at or above population objective. Keep in mind that the elk objective map has not yet been updated for the 2024 season and does not account for any district boundary or unit number changes that were approved for the upcoming 2024 season. For specific information covering the better general units to consider hunting and an overview of them, refer to the Montana elk and deer state section in our March issue. You can always give us a call to help pick an area to focus on or fine tune your hunting plan as well.


Statewide, there are a total of 138 deer districts covering over 125,000 square miles in Montana. Of these, 120 of them have an archery-only antlered mule deer general season and 118 may also be hunted on the general license for antlered mule deer during the any legal weapon season dates. Montana’s definition of an antlered buck is a deer with an antler or antlers at least four inches long as measured from the top of the skull. Keep in mind that a general deer license is also valid for antlered whitetail in almost every district in the state. To be clear, it is not valid for one of each, just whichever of the two species you decide to notch your tag on. Be sure to check the regulations for any district you are planning to hunt. There are a few districts that are only legal to hunt by special permit during the last few weeks of November for both species.