Where the F@#k are all the Elk.
Montana FWP is touting that this is the best time in history to be an elk hunter in Montana, in fact there are so many elk in Montana they are extending the elk hunting season from August 15, 2016 to February 15, 2017. So why I have not seen an elk for two years, in fact I am starting to think that elk have gone extinct in Montana, and the Montana FWP is running an elaborate ruse, and is only still selling licenses to raise money! So either I am the worst elk hunter in the world, which is a possibility, or the elk hunting isn’t all that great in Montana.
Montana FWP claims that there are 167,158 elk that live in Montana. That’s a lot of elk right? Well let’s break it down, it’s estimated that around 50% of the elk live on private land restricted to hunting. Most land owners in Montana with elk on their land, view it as like having a gold mine, and they lease it to outfitters who cater to high $ out of state hunters looking for trophy bulls. These are the same land owners who also complain about having too many cow elk on their land. This gives us 83,579 elk on huntable land that is still a lot of elk right? Well let’s consider that only 20% of the elk are bulls, that gives us 16,715 huntable bulls, and consider that 25% of the bulls are still spikes that gives us only 12,536 huntable bulls in Montana.
There are a 162 hunting districts in Montana that supposedly have elk on them, but 48 districts are draw only for a bull permit leaving only 114 hunting districts or 70% with over the counter bull permits. Considering around equal elk distribution that’s leaves 8775 huntable bull elk with OTC permits. In 2014 107,663 people hunted elk harvesting 25,785 cows and bulls or only a 15% success rate. If in 2016 let’s say only 100,000 people go elk hunting that leaves only .08775 legal bulls per hunter. Do you still think that there is a lot of elk?
The problem is elk hunting in Montana has become a big business, and the state is catering to rich out of state hunters who can afford to hire a guide or pay to hunt on private land. Since on most private land the hunting is restricted the elk herd numbers are over objective, which means that there are more elk than the land can support. So they are letting us ordinary folk do culling hunts to harvest the cows and keep the herd numbers manageable, but don’t you dare shoot a bull! My personal opinion is that I don’t blame the land owners for trying to make a living, but if they restrict their land to only guided hunts for trophy bulls, they don’t have the right to complain about the number of elk on their land. Montana FWP is letting them have their cake and eat it to. I think that if these land owners want management hunts they also need to let a certain percentage of Montana resident hunters hunt bulls as well.