Complete Checklist for a Montana OTC Bighorn Sheep Hunt

Ever dreamt of a high-elevation adventure where every step carves a path into the tapestry of the Rockies? Enter the exceptional domain of bighorn sheep hunting in Montana, where the thrill of stalking across rocky ridges is matched only by the satisfaction of outwitting a mature ram.

Like Montana’s jagged, snow-capped peaks, the bighorn sheep population in the state stands proud and plentiful, harboring a rich diversity of not just mature rams, but ewes and lambs as well. This offers an optimal ecosystem to foster the growing population of this game species, beckoning all types of hunters, from first-timers to seasoned pros.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about this heart-thumping pursuit, revealing why Montana’s thriving bighorn sheep population and diverse landscapes beckon hunters far and wide.

From understanding OTC and permit systems to identifying and conserving bighorn sheep, knowing hunt licenses, season dates, and regulations, to choosing the right outfitter and gaining valuable hunting tips, it’s an essential guide for an unforgettable Montana experience.

7 Key Takeaways on Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting

  1. Montana is home to a significant portion of North American bighorn sheep, a testament to successful conservation efforts.
  2. The state provides various types of hunting licenses, including limited ones that are awarded through a competitive draw, and unlimited units that are more widely available.
  3. Unlimited bighorn sheep hunting licenses are available for Montana OTC bighorn sheep hunts, and there is no cap on the number of licenses that can be sold.
  4. The season for hunting bighorn sheep in Montana begins in September and ends in December.
  5. As per the hunting regulations for Montana bighorn sheep hunting, it is mandatory for a hunter who harvests a bighorn ram to present the complete head and cape intact within 48 hours to any FWP office.
  6. Absaroka-Beartooth Outfitters, Cody Carr’s Hunting Adventures, and Redbone Outfitting are among the top Montana outfitters that offer bighorn sheep hunting.
  7. To have a fruitful hunting experience for Montana bighorn sheep, hunters must engage in both physical and mental preparation.

Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting Checklist

A view of a large Bighorn ram from the side as it stands on a grassy field in Montana

So, you’re contemplating donning your hunting gear and setting out on the untamed trails of Montana in pursuit of the majestic bighorn sheep. I get it — the call of the wild, the thrill of the chase.

But before you strap on your boots and load your pack, let’s run through the key things you need to know about embarking on this exhilarating Montana Bighorn Sheep hunt.

1. Montana Bighorn Sheep

A bighorn ram stands in a dry, grassy field in Montana.

In a land known for its vast, open spaces and breathtaking landscapes, Montana’s bighorn sheep cut a remarkable figure. If you’ve been dreaming of locking eyes with a mature ram perched majestically atop a cliff or catching a young ram’s playful antics, your journey must include Montana’s wild terrain.

Montana Bighorn Sheep at a Glance:

LambsWeigh 8-10 pounds at birth, grow to 70-90 pounds in 8-10 months Smallest sheep, shed wooly juvenile coats between August and October
Ewes (Adult Females)Narrower, less divergent horns than young rams Most common bighorn sheep, reach adult size at 4-5 years, weighing 130-160 pounds.
Young Rams (1 to 2 years)Similar body and horn size as adult females, weigh between 130-160 pounds Slightly wider horn bases, more divergent horns than ewes, slightly longer hair on the back of the neck, giving a chunky appearance, more lamb-like face
Adult Rams (3 to 4 years)Hump on shoulders when viewed broadside Horns are broomed with large circumferences

The rich history of bighorn sheep in North America is fascinating. These hearty beasts once roamed Western landscapes by the millions. Prompted by swift over-hunting and habitat changes tied to westward migration, their numbers plummeted.

Today, there are estimated to be around 80,000 in North America, which aligns with a fourfold increase from the early days of restoration efforts but is still a tiny fraction of their heyday population.

Montana’s bighorn sheep characteristics you need to know:

  • Habitat – You’ll predominantly spot these spectacular animals on cliffs, mountain slopes, and sometimes rolling foothills.
  • Food Habits – Bighorn sheep are picky eaters, favoring bunchgrasses and shrubs in winter and a wide variety of grasses, sedges, and forbs in the warmer months.

Montana’s thriving bighorn sheep community is a testament to successful conservation efforts and a vibrant ecosystem. You can experience this for yourself, grounding your knowledge in firsthand sightings or even taking part in the state’s controlled hunt programs.

2. Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting Licenses and Fees

A female bighorn surveys her surroundings from a grassy elevated vantage point in Montana.

Every hunter’s ultimate dream in Montana may well be to bag the ultimate trophy — the Bighorn Sheep. That’s where these licenses come into play. The state offers a mix of both competitive-draw limited licenses and more widely available unlimited licenses, catering to different types of hunters and experiences.

For bighorn sheep, it is worth noting that license holders may legally take one, provided that all conditions on the issued license are met. Every license or permit application requires an extra $10 fee for residents and $50 for non-residents, which is non-refundable.

Here’s a breakdown of the bighorn sheep hunting licenses in Montana:

  • Bighorn Sheep Limited Licenses – Limited bighorn sheep licenses are awarded through a special drawing to limit hunters in a specific area. Hunters can apply for 1 limited license area only. If you get an either-sex or legal ram license, you can’t apply for another one for the next 7 years. But if you get a limited ewe license, you’re not restricted to the 7-year waiting period.
  • Bighorn Sheep Unlimited Licenses – Unlimited bighorn sheep licenses, limited to one per hunter with district quotas, are available for purchase and may close quickly after opening. Harvesting a legal ram under this license bars the hunter from applying for another for 7 years.

Montana Bighorn Sheep License Fees:

LicenseAvailabilityDeadlineResident FeeNon-resident Fee
Bighorn SheepDrawing & OTCMay 1$125$1,250

To take the excitement up a notch, there is a SuperTag Lottery for Bighorn Sheep. With the chance to win a Montana hunting license for bighorn sheep by purchasing $5 chances, residents especially have an advantage as they get a free chance for every General Elk or Deer License purchased.

Each SuperTag license allows hunting in any Montana district for that species. Additionally, there’s no seven-year waiting period for SuperTags, making them a popular choice for both resident and nonresident hunters.

Unlimited sheep units, sheep tags, sheep harvest quota, and SuperTag Lottery for bighorn sheep all add nuances to the licensing game. It’s like the roulette of the hunting world — knowing when to hold your cards and when to cash out.

3. Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting Season Dates

A Bighorn ram checks out its surroundings from its position in the grassy field in Montana

To make your bighorn sheep hunting journey an organized success, knowing Montana’s bighorn sheep season dates is a must. It’s a time when adrenaline pulses through every hunter’s veins, and the thrill of the chase merges with the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings.

Bighorn Sheep Hunting Season Dates:

Bighorn Sheep SeasonDates
Bighorn Sheep ArcherySept. 7 – Sept. 14
Bighorn Sheep GeneralSept. 15 – Dec. 01

Now, drawing results. Knowing these dates is crucial, especially if you’re planning a Montana hunting trip around this time.

Special Drawing for Bighorn SheepMid-May
SuperTags for Bighorn SheepEarly July

It’s worth noting that the Archery Only Season is not applicable across the board. It specifically caters to limited entry bighorn sheep hunting districts. To make it crystal clear, Archery Only Season isn’t a thing in CLOSED or unlimited entry districts.

If you’re eyeing an archery-only hunt, it’s essential to recognize that these dates typically precede the general bighorn sheep season. 

4. Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting Regulations

A hunter uses binoculars to survey his surroundings for Bighorn Sheep

As much fun as a Montana bighorn sheep hunt might be, there are strict regulations in place to maintain the delicate balance of nature and ensure the sustainability of this coveted species. Here’s what you need to know before you start sizing up bighorn sheep in Montana:

  • Mandatory Harvest Reporting – To harvest a bighorn ram, the complete head, and cape must be presented intact within 48 hours. Altering the head and horns is not allowed. Horns greater than one-half curl must be plugged or pinned at any FWP office within 10 days after harvest.
  • Recovering a Ram Skull – You can recover and possess the horn/s with the attached skull of a mountain sheep that died of natural causes. But if the sheep were killed, you cannot possess these parts. If you recover horns and skulls, report it to FWP within 48 hours and present it for inspection within 10 days with a pin fee of $25. Horns and skulls found in state parks are a no-go.
  • Judging a Legal Ram – When judging the size of a ram, always view it from the front. Don’t shoot the first one you see, you should compare several rams. A legal ram has a horn intercepted by a straight line extending from the front base of the horn through any portion of the eye-opening. The base of the horn is where it meets the hairline of the head.

So, in a nutshell, Montana wants you to bag that bighorn responsibly and respectfully. A little red tape never hurt anyone, especially when it’s about preserving the beauty of our shared wilderness. 

5. Montana Outfitters for Bighorn Sheep Hunting

A group of hunters in camouflage assembling their equipment in the woods during a Montana OTC bighorn sheep hunt

For a hunt as prestigious and as challenging as bagging a bighorn sheep, the outfitter you choose can make or break the experience. Let’s zero in on the top Montana guides that specialize in bighorn sheep hunting:

  • Absaroka-Beartooth Outfitters – Their hunting grounds for bighorn sheep are in an area located north of Yellowstone National Park. With the vast area and their guides’ expertise, it is considered the most optimal opportunity in the lower 48 states to hunt a ram. The duration of the hunts lasts for 8 days, which includes a day in, 6 days of hunting, and a day out.
  • Cody Carr’s Hunting Adventures – This outfitter maintains a strict guide-to-client ratio of 1:1, ensuring personalized attention. With this, your odds are as good as they get for a Boone and Crocket Sheep Permit.
  • Redbone Outfitting – Some of the largest rams in the state can be found in their region, and if you’re fortunate enough to win the lottery, this hunt will be etched in your memory forever. With a guide-to-hunter ratio of 2:1, they keep an eye on sheep all year round and know the locations of the best rams.

Each of these outfitters offers a unique experience with success rates varying among them, and so do the styles of hunting, making it easier for hunters to find their perfect match.

Remember, having the right partner for your sheep hunt can significantly increase the chances of that trophy ram. Daydreaming about adding a bighorn sheep to your trophy collection is not just a fantasy – these expeditions can make it a reality.

6. Montana Bighorn Sheep Hunting Tips

A woman reads a manual on bighorn sheep hunting regulations in Montana

Hunting isn’t just about firing a shot; it’s about a series of strategic steps that culminate in a successful harvest. For those setting their sights on the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Montana, high-quality binoculars and a spot-and-stalk approach will be your best friends.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when hunting bighorn sheep in Montana:

  • Physical and Mental Preparation – Bighorn hunts are as much about fitness as they are about marksmanship. The high-altitude Rocky Mountain landscape poses a considerable challenge. Invest in strength and endurance training to prepare for these punishing conditions.
  • Research and Scouting – Before you hit the mountains, your most valuable tool will be knowledge. Learn the habitat and behavior of the bighorn sheep. Where are they likely to be at different times of the day and under different weather conditions? This intel will significantly boost your chances.
  • Selecting the Right Gear – In hunting, your gear can make or break your experience. Knowing what to pack will be the difference between a successful hunt and a missed opportunity. From specialized footwear to advanced optics, every item in your kit should be selected with care.
  • Spot and Stalk Method – This technique is popular among inexperienced sheep hunters. You’ll survey and pinpoint your prey using high-quality optics and then stealthily approach for the kill. Be prepared for long periods of observation with minimal movement.
  • Effective Ranging and Positioning – Mountains are notorious for tricky terrains – steep, rocky, and slippery. If you’re not yet experienced, acquire backcountry hiking and climbing skills. Correctly positioning yourself for a clear shot and judging distances in rugged landscapes is a vital aspect of this type of hunting.
  • Weather Matters – While bighorn sheep typically live up high in the mountains, heavy snowfall can push them lower down to find food and milder conditions. Being well-versed in weather patterns and how they affect the sheep’s movements can be the key to tracking them down.

If you feel a thrill at the thought of spotting these iconic creatures against Montana’s sweeping mountain backdrop, you’re not alone. With unlimited hunts available, understanding the nuances of bighorn sheep and its habitat can help transform your dreams into unforgettable realities.

Montana OTC Bighorn Sheep Final Thoughts

Three bighorn rams playfully butt heads with one another in a show of dominance.

Montana’s bighorn sheep hunting offers not just a thrilling adventure in the rugged landscapes of the Rocky Mountains but also a profound connection to the state’s rich natural heritage.

As hunters embark on the challenging pursuit of these majestic creatures, they become part of a conservation narrative, contributing to the sustainable management of the bighorn sheep population.

From understanding the lottery-style permit system to appreciating the unique lineage of Montana’s bighorn sheep, hunters play a vital role in ensuring that future generations can continue to experience the awe-inspiring beauty and untamed spirit of Montana’s bighorn sheep in the years to come.

Remember, your journey is as much about the thrill of the chase as it is about contributing to the sustained splendor of Montana’s natural heritage. So as you gear up, immerse yourself in the hunt with knowledge in your pack, reverence in your heart, and a bond to nature that deepens with every sighting.

Montana OTC Bighorn Sheep FAQs

1. How Much Is a Bighorn Sheep Tag in Montana?

The cost of a bighorn sheep tag in Montana is $125 for residents and $1,250 for nonresidents.

2. Can You Hunt Bighorn Sheep in Montana?

Bighorn sheep are a game animal in Montana, and both residents and nonresidents have the opportunity to hunt them.

3. How Long Does It Take to Draw a Bighorn Sheep Tag in Montana?

Getting a bighorn sheep tag in Montana can be hard because many hunters apply for limited permits. Some lucky hunters get one on their first try, but others may have to apply for many years before being successful.

4. How Much Is a Mountain Goat Tag in Montana?

Montana charges $125 for residents and $1,250 for nonresidents to obtain a mountain goat tag.

5. How Much Is a Wolf Tag in Montana?

The cost of a wolf tag in Montana is in the range of $10 to $50 for both residents and non-residents.

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Written by:

Elizabeth Hawley
Hey, fellow travelers! I'm Elizabeth Hawley, stepping into the world in the hues of fall. For me, Montana is more than just a state; it's a muse. The golden aspen trees and russet landscapes in the fall have always fueled my creativity. Co-founding was a no-brainer, blending my love for art, photography, and Montana's ever-changing palette.

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