After purchasing hunting licenses, applying for permits months ago, and laying plans over hot coffee and topo maps, young and old are filled with the anticipation that only comes with the opening day of Montana's general deer and elk hunting season.
Beginning Saturday, Oct. 24 and continuing until the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29, hunters in Montana will head afield with friends and family in pursuit of tradition as much as deer and elk.
"There's really nothing to compare it to," said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. "About 100,000 hunters will be afield this weekend. Grocery stores will be busier than on Super Bowl Sunday. Rural coffee shops have ordered extra bacon and eggs and stocked up on homemade pie. FWP phones in every region of the state are ringing constantly and the FWP website will try to hold its own as folks far and wide try to find last-minute information on their favorite hunting areas."
In additional to bring family and friends together as cherished holidays do, deer and elk hunting alone generates $287 million for the state's economy year in and year out as hunters travel about Montana, stopping by local inns, roadhouses and sporting goods stores.
And these are good times for elk and deer hunters as Montana elk populations continue to be strong and deer numbers are bouncing back across most of the state after a spate of tough winters.
Even hunters who didn't draw a special permit this year, can fashion a rewarding experience in Montana with numerous opportunities to hunt for elk and deer with just a general hunting license.
Depending on the hunting district regulations hunters can pursue brow-tined bull elk, spike bull elk, either-sex elk, antlerless elk, and mule deer and white-tailed deer.
Deer and elk are found throughout most of Montana. In all, hunters spend about 946,000 days afield in Montana and enjoy nearly 35 million acres of National Forest and other public land, more than 30 wildlife management areas as well as 8 million acres of land made available through the Block Management Program.
"It's not an exaggeration to say this is a big, big deal here in Montana," Hagener said. "I've been in this job awhile and I'm always reminded of just how important hunting is to the people who live, work and vacation here. We Montanans talk and debate and laugh and argue about it all year long because we're passionate about these special Montana opportunities that can be found in few places these days. In Montana, hunting is bigger than just a hobby or recreational diversion, it's really a celebration of our culture and our history —and we look forward to it year after year."
For more information on elk and deer hunting in Montana, visit FWP's website at fwp.mt.gov, click "Hunting" then click Plan Your Hunt.
Hunters must follow all regulations and obtain permission to hunt on private property, where 65 percent of the state's the deer and 40 percent of the elk occur.
FWP wildlife biologists and game warders will be operating hunter check-stations throughout the state to collect biological information and ensure regulations are followed. All hunters are required to stop at check stations.