Famous for its big game opportunities, Montana is a hunter’s paradise. The public-access friendly state boasts a whopping 33 million acres of public land, much of that open to hunting. People come from all over the world for a chance to fill their tags in Montana’s picturesque landscapes. While most hunters are focusing on huge elk, deer, or sheep some animals are often overlooked. One such animal Montana has in abundance is the coyote.
In Montana, coyotes are a non-game predator species that can be hunted year-round without a specific license. There are no bag limits or weapons restrictions. The use of decoys, electronic calls, and lights for night hunting are all allowed, but permission is needed for hunting on private land.
While being both widespread across the state and adaptable to every ecosystem, the coyote is not always easy to find and hunt. Unlike some states, coyotes are native to Montana so hunting them in this western state comes with the challenge of pursuing the prairie wolf in its natural habitat. This guide will cover the basics on hunting coyotes in Montana.
Since the coyote is a non-game species, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) does not have any published document of regulations specific to coyotes. Instead, the rules coyote hunters must follow come from Montana access laws and regulations specific to individual tracts of land. In general, these are the rules coyote hunters must follow:
- Hunters must have permission to hunt on private property or to retrieve wounded animals.
- Anyone to hunts or fishes in the state needs a conservation license, including coyote hunters.
- Non-commercial, non-hunting activities on state trust lands require a State Land Recreation Use Permit.
- Hunters must be aware of rules specific to Wildlife Refuges, Block Management, and other tracts of land.
- Licenses are needed to hunt game species, including fur-bearers such as bobcats and wolves.
- Recreating on reservations often requires an additional permit, this includes hunting.
The lack of state-wide regulations means that coyote hunters can use decoys, electronic calls, bait, and can even hunt at night! However, Montana’s public lands are regulated by different state and federal agencies. It is up to hunters to find the regulations specific to the land they will be hunting on. For instance, the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge has a coyote season that applies to all the land inside the refuge.
It is coyote hunters’ responsibility to understand the regulations that are specific to the land they wish to hunt on. Refuges and state recreation lands will have stricter regulations than national forest, national grasslands, or BLM lands. The Montana FWP website is a great place to find solid resources for hunting, fishing, and land-use regulations.
When it comes to hunting coyotes, there are some things hunters can do which will make their hunts easier or open up more opportunities:
- Hunting outside of big-game seasons so the woods and prairies will be less crowded.
- A solid 4×4 truck or SUV with off-road tires is a must for the back roads in the state.
- Hiking is a guarantee, so every hunter should have a sturdy pair of boots.
- A GPS with OnX Maps installed makes scouting large areas much easier.
- Bring a spotting scope and binoculars for spotting from hilltops in open country.
While seasoned coyote hunters will know about these tips, it is always good to keep these things in mind. One additional tip that is specific to Montana coyote hunting is to make plans to show up for several times, not just once. Montana residents are used to big game hunters showing up for a once-in-a-lifetime hunt only to never return. But showing up repeatedly and being respectful of local customs builds both trust and respect.
Going even further, experienced and coyote hunters should consider asking landowners for permission to hunt private properties. Many ranchers and rural residents are all too happy to have someone remove a few coyotes, so hunters are less likely to be turned away. The key is to be respectful and follow the landowner’s rules to the letter. Doing so now when hunting coyotes might open the door for elk and deer in the future!
Where to Hunt
Montana is the third largest state in the lower 48 at 147,000 square miles. That’s nearly the size of California, but with only 3% of the population! The towns are spread out and in between is miles of prairies and mountains. To improve success, its best to stay near water in the eastern areas of the state. These locations are also prime habitat for big game, so a coyote trip in the off season could double as a scouting mission for fall hunting!
- Missouri River Breaks National Monument and Charles M Russell Wildlife Refuge
- Comprising 1.4 million acres, this protected area of the Missouri River is prime habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including coyotes. Hunters will have to consult local regulations for both the monument and refuge.
- Judith Basin County
- Half-way between Great Falls and Billings, Judith Basin County is home to several small mountain ranges and the valleys between them form the Judith Basin. This is true Big Sky country!
- Ashland Ranger District
- Located east of Billings and south of Miles City, the Ashland Ranger district is the largest continuous piece of federal land in eastern Montana and is part of Custer Gallatin National Forest. The variable topography is excellent coyote habitat.
- Lower Yellowstone River
- Starting at Livingston, MT, the Yellowstone River cuts a wide path with farms and ranches near the river. This continues all the way to the North Dakota border at Sidney, MT. Besides the close proximity to I-94, the area has many guiding outfits which are all too happy to cater to coyote hunters.
- Fort Peck Reservoir
- The largest man-made lake in Montana, Ft. Peck is 134 miles long and has 1,250 miles of shoreline. Surrounding the lake are many farms and ranches plus the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge. All the cuts, valleys, and coulees hold coyotes as they scavenge for carrion and birds.
While everyone hunts coyotes a bit differently, Montana has enough variety to cater to just about any coyote hunter. The key to finding success in the vast landscapes of the state is to get boots on the ground and do some scouting!