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Hunting Private Land in Montana

October 8, 2008.

From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

Montana’s Block Management Program offers hunters managed access to over eight million acres. That leaves millions of acres of private land that may be available to the hunter willing to request landowners’ permission to hunt.

In total, there are nearly 59 million acres of private land in Montana with excellent hunting opportunities for big game and game birds.

Hunters reluctant to identify landowners and request access should consider the statistics. About 65 percent of deer, 35 percent of elk, and 75 percent of antelope in Montana are harvested on private land annually. The benefit far outweighs the challenge of gaining permission to hunt these lands.

Doing your homework ahead of time improves the odds that a landowner may grant permission.   Know who owns the land in the area where you plan to hunt and, if possible, approach the landowner well in advance.   Make that contact at sensible times and call ahead first if possible to ask for an opportunity to meet the landowner at a convenient time.   Avoid drop by visits that interrupt farm or ranch work activities, like cattle shipping days or peak periods of grain or hay harvest, meal times and holiday gatherings.

Be aware that private landowners manage hunting access on their land in a variety of ways. Some landowners have few restrictions other than requiring hunters to hunt responsibly and obey ranch rules.   Some land may be completely closed to hunting, while in other cases hunters may be asked to pay fees, or be required to employ the services of a licensed outfitter. Some land may be open to hunters seeking upland game birds or female deer, elk or antelope, while opportunities for hunting bulls or bucks may be more restricted. Sometimes only those with a previous relationship with the landowner may be granted access.

Whatever the case, be prepared to explain your request clearly and respectfully and make sure that you are speaking to the individual who has the authority to permit you to hunt on the lands you’ve described.

Keep in mind that hunting access to private land is a privilege that carries with it responsibilities. Be specific about the type of hunting access you are requesting—including whether you would like to hunt on foot or use a vehicle, the game you hope to hunt, the dates and times you would like to hunt, and whether others plan to accompany you and, if so, how many and who those people are.

If access is granted, these specifics are then the terms of the agreement you’ve made with the landowner. It is very important to honor them, to hunt responsibly and ethically, and to show appreciation for the privilege the landowner has extended to you.  

Access to hunt on private land is never a given but, when you negotiate a mutually satisfying agreement with a landowner, you are likely to have an exceptional hunting experience that may lead to future opportunities, and possibly a valuable new friendship.

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