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Tips for hunters from the Forest Service

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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 by a Forest Service office to get the latest visitor maps and information. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest has three maps—northern, central, and southern—and each map show the latest travel rules. Forest maps can also be ordered at

PDF Maps Mobile App is available as a free download from iTunes and the Android Play store and provides access to Forest Service maps.

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 national 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. The ranger stations in Sheridan or Ennis have information about where those designated camping spots are.

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

Throughout the national forest, vehicles are prohibited on roads or trails that are narrower than the vehicle, or 50 inches. An ATV doesn’t belong on a single-track trail, for example.

Remember that according to state laws, drivers and vehicles must be licensed and street legal when traveling on numbered Forest Service roads. ATVs and motorcycles on Forest Service trails don’t have to be licensed or street legal, but must have a valid Montana off highway vehicle sticker.

Use a dump station
Don’t empty your sewage and wastewater 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 6 inches deep and 200 feet from water. Avoid contaminating water sources when washing.
– Leave what you find. Minimize 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 impact of your horses. Don’t tie horses to trees for more than half an hour—horses can damage trees by rubbing, 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 program, visit

Avoid spreading weeds
Only certified weed-free hay, straw, seed and feed can be brought into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. 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.

You can also help stop weeds by washing your vehicles thoroughly before you head off on your hunting trip. Weed seeds can lodge under ATVs, and in pickup beds and wheel wells.

You can camp almost anywhere in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 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 one site. If that’s in a campground, then you have to leave the campground for at least seven days before returning. If you’re staying somewhere other than a campground, after 16 days you must move your camp at least 5 miles for the next two weeks.

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 available at

Choose a site for a campfire carefully—near water if possible—and clear it of combustible material. 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 (877) 444-6777 or go to For a complete list of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge cabins, go to

Food storage
Storing food out of a bear’s reach keeps the bear wild and at a distance, where it belongs. Special rules apply for storing food and attractants throughout the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Food and other attractants must be:
1) stored in a closed, solid-sided vehicle or horse trailer
2) stored in bear-resistant containers certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, or:
3) hung 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet out from any tree or support pole.

If your hunt is successful, keep animal carcasses at least 100 yards from your camp, from places people will sleep, and from trails. Between 100 yards and 1/2 mile from your camp, you must hang or store your animal carcass just like other items that can attract bears. No matter where you are, never assume 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 has occurred 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.

These are the 10 essentials every hunter should carry: 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 are available from your local outdoor store and can prevent you from getting Giardia and other water-borne parasites.

Your cell phone can save your life, but don’t depend on having 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.

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.

Visit one of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s offices in Dillon, Wisdom, Butte, Ennis, Sheridan and Philipsburg weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for more information.

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