Forest Service Offers Tips to Hunters

Contact(s): Leona Rodreick

Good luck to all hunters looking for that trophy bull elk or other game animal in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.  The Forest Service hopes you have a good hunt and offers some tips for making your hunt even more enjoyable.

Get a Map

Stop in at a Forest Service office to get the latest visitor maps and information.  You'll find Forest Service offices in Dillon, Butte, Wisdom, Sheridan, Ennis, and Philipsburg.

The Forest has three maps: northern; central, and southern, and each map is $14. The maps show the latest travel rules.  Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest Visitor/Travel maps showing lake, road, and trail locations are available for purchase from any Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest office. Or, you can order forest maps through the USDA Forest Service's National Forest Store at

NEW! - PDF Maps Mobile App, developed by Avenza Systems Inc., is available as a free download from iTunes and the Android Play Store. The app provides access to Forest Service maps, such as motor-vehicle-use maps, which are free while pages from national forest atlases are 99 cents and forest visitor maps are $4.99.

Rules for Vehicles

The Forest Service has many roads and trails open to motorized travel, but some roads and trails are closed this time of year.  All vehicles must stay on designated routes and not drive cross-country on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

In most areas of the Forest you may drive up to 300 feet off a road or trail to reach a temporary camping spot, but special rules in the Gravelly and Snowcrest ranges in Madison County allow driving off roads only at designated locations to reach a signed camping spot.  Ask at the ranger stations in Sheridan or Ennis for information on where those designated camping spots are located.

For all other activities, including for firewood cutting, your vehicle must remain within a vehicle-length of the road, officials said. 

Throughout the national forest, fullsize vehicles are also prohibited on roads or trails that are narrower than the vehicle (50”).  So an ATV doesn’t belong on a single-track trail, for example.

The Forest Service also reminds drivers not to drive around barricades, gates, or snow drifts.  Doing so creates ruts and in the case of man-made barriers, defeats the purpose they were intended for.

The mix of closed and open roads and trails are designed to provide a variety of hunting experiences and offers secure areas for game.  You can help protect that experience by cooperating with the travel rules in effect for the area you hunt in.

The Forest Service takes enforcement of these closures seriously, with many violations resulting in serious fines.  So, check the maps for the travel rules in the areas that interest you and help ensure good hunting this year--and in years to come. 

Remember, too, that state law requires drivers and vehicles to be licensed and “street legal” when on numbered Forest Service roads.  ATV’s and motorcycles on Forest Service trails don’t have to be licensed or street legal, but must have a valid Montana “OHV permit.” Nonresidents using their OHVs in Montana must purchase a Nonresident Temporary Use Permit, which is valid for the calendar year (January 1 – December 31). Residents of Idaho and North Dakota are exempt. The Non-resident Temporary Use Permit allows OHV use on trails only. OHVs must be street legal to be ridden on roads.

Use a Dump Station

Don’t empty your sewage and waste water tanks in the national forest.  Dump your waste down a proper drain, not on the ground.

Travel Light on the Land

Use "Leave No Trace" camping practices to protect your national forests by following these guidelines: 

  • Pack it in, pack it out--dispose of trash and garbage properly at approved garbage dumps, not in the national forest.  Be extra clean in bear country. 
  • Properly dispose of what you can't pack out--bury human waste in a "cat-hole" or latrine at least six inches deep and 200 feet from water.  Avoid contaminating water sources when washing. 
  • Leave what you find--maintain naturalness by minimizing site alterations when camping.  Avoid damage to trees and plants.  Leave natural objects and cultural artifacts where you find them. 
  • Minimize the use and effect of fire--use only dead and down wood for fuel.  In high-use areas, use existing fire rings.  In remote areas, use fire pans or other "Leave No Trace" fire techniques. 
  • Minimize the effects from your horses--don't tie horses to trees for long periods of time (longer than one-half hour).  Horses can damage trees by rubbing, and by pawing and trampling roots.  Use an electric fence, highline, hobbles, or picket pin to hold horses in areas with durable surfaces such as rocky ground or dry meadows.  Scatter manure and leftover feed when breaking camp.

For more information on the Leave No Trace skill and ethics program, go to


Remember, only certified, weed-free hay, straw, seed, and feed can be brought into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.  You can help preserve wildlife habitat and stop the spread of noxious weeds by making sure your feed is clean.  To qualify, your hay bales must be tagged.  Letters from growers won't be accepted.

Noxious weeds, like spotted knapweed, have the potential to destroy the habitat that makes Southwest Montana's hunting among the country's finest.  Report patches of weeds you find on public lands to the nearest Forest Service office.

Save Wildlife Habitat: Wash Your Rig

You can also help stop weeds in another important way.  Wash your vehicles thoroughly before you head off on your hunting trip.  Weed seeds can lodge under ATV's, and in pickup beds and wheel wells. 


In Montana, outfitters and guides must be licensed to operate on federal, state, as well as private lands unless it's their own.  Licensed outfitters must meet requirements to ensure they provide service to their clients and meet the standards of the industry.  Be sure your guide or outfitter is licensed.  It's illegal to hire an unlicensed guide or outfitter.

Call the state Board of Outfitters at (406) 444-3738 or the nearest office of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation for more information.


You can camp most anywhere in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, within 300 feet of a road, with just a few exceptions.  Be a good neighbor and don't set up your gear at campsites you aren't really using. 

There's a 16-day limit on camping in any developed or undeveloped site.  After leaving the location, a minimum of seven days is required before any group or persons may reoccupy the site.

Keep your camp at least 200 feet from any lake or stream, to avoid harming the soft soils near the water.

A complete list of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest campgrounds is at


The current fire danger for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge is posted at and on signs around the forest.  The higher the danger, the easier it is for fires to spread.

Choose a site for a campfire carefully, near water if possible, and clear it of combustible material. 

Remember, just because it’s cold in the morning doesn’t mean fires can’t spread quickly!  NEVER walk away from a smoldering campfire.  ALWAYS make sure a fire is dead out.  Mix water, earth, and embers and stir them until they're cool enough to hold in your bare hand. 

Most human-caused fires in Southwest Montana start in the fall, either from cigarettes or warming fires.  Also, watch out for catalytic converters starting fires under vehicles. Remember to bring along a shovel and bucket.

Rental Cabins

You can rent some of the cabins in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest during hunting season.  To reserve a cabin, call toll free, 1-877-444-6777, or go to For a complete list of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge cabins, go to

Food Storage

Special rules apply for storing food and attractants throughout the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF.

The rules say food and other “attractants” must be stored in 1) a closed, solid-sided vehicle or horse trailer, 2) in bear-resistant containers certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), or 3) hung 10 feet off the ground and four feet out from any tree or support pole. 

If you hunt and have an animal carcass, keep it at least 100 yards from your camp, a trail, or any place people will sleep.

Between 100 yards and one-half mile from your camp, you must hang or store your animal carcass just like other items that can attract bears.

You can leave a carcass on the ground if it’s at least one-half mile from camping areas and at least 200 yards from a trail. Storing carcasses in a hard-sided horse trailer 100 yards away is okay, too.  Storing food out of a bear’s reach keeps the bear wild and at a distance, where it belongs. No matter where you are, though, never assume that you’ll never see a bear!

Hunter Safety Tips

Don’t become someone our local search and rescue crews need to find.  Here are some tips for your own safety on your hunt this fall:

Plan Ahead. Pick a route in advance, and leave a trip itinerary with family or friends. Always include the time when you expect to return, as well as a final time when your family or friends should assume an emergency and notify the authorities.

Be Prepared. Everyone knows that the best hunting is off the beaten path, but heading off-trail without a map is pushing your luck.  The weather will change, so travel prepared for winter.

Here are the “Eleven Essentials” every hunter should carry: bear spray, map, compass, flashlight, extra food and water, extra clothes, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocket knife, waterproof matches, and fire starter.

If you plan on drinking water from streams or lakes, don’t forget a water filter or chemical purification, such as iodine tablets or chlorine drops. All of these can keep you from getting giardia and other water-borne parasites, and are available from your local outdoor store.

Your cell phone can save your life, but don’t depend on having adequate coverage, especially in the remote areas of Southwest Montana.  Always travel ready to spend time out in the cold, and don’t assume you can be rescued quickly.

Also, ensure you have a set of chains and a shovel in case it snows.  Even the most experienced drivers could get stuck in snow or icy conditions.

Learn Navigation Skills. Don’t just carry a map and compass or global positioning unit (GPS)—know how to use them.  Never been lost?  Try pointing to your exact position on a map.  If you can’t then maybe it’s past time to learn how.

Take a Wilderness First Aid Course. Know how to treat backcountry injuries, coordinate a self-rescue, or facilitate an organized rescue if necessary. You owe it to yourself and to your hunting partners to take a course.

For More Information

Regular Forest Service office hours are weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.   Offices are closed on weekends and Federal holidays.  Offices are located in Dillon, Wisdom, Butte, Ennis, Sheridan and Philipsburg.