Preparing for hiking and hunting

How to prepare for Montana's hunting seasons now

By David Reese, Montana Living

Fall is in the air in Montana.

You feel it on the cool August mornings, and the sky has that blue that look that is just a bit bluer than usual.

Archery season for bear, deer and elk opens Sept. 3, and the rifle season is another seven weeks away after that. So now is the time to get your body, your equipment and your plan ready.

Take care of your feet with Garmont boots

Your feet are probably the most important aspect of your in the field campaign.

Here are some tips from Kalispell foot doctor Erik Ploot on how to keep your feet healthy.

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Proper-fitting boots, such as these from Garmont, will give you miles of pleasure. Shown in the photo is Garmont's Prophet Mid-GTX, which our field crew tested over the summer and found to be an excellent all-around boot for trails and moderate off-trail and backcountry use. (See the product here:

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garmont boots  montana living

Editors' Choice: Garmont boots Prophet Mid-GTX were a nice addition to our field team. They go from trail to cliffs well, repel water, and are  lightweight enough for a full day in the field carrying a heavy hunting pack.


Dr. Ploot, an avid hiker and hunter, prefers a sturdy, over-built boot for backcountry hunting, where you are off trail most of the time.

Choose a boot that has good drying capacity, especially for Montana's warmer fall hunting seasons. Moisture is your feet's enemy, so he recommends carrying extra socks to change into during the day. "That's going to make a big difference, bringing those extra socks," he  said. "Moisture inside the boot is only going to make blistering worse." Insulated boots also cause sweating, another enemy of feet, Ploot said.

A well-fitted boot is going to help you avoid injury in a couple of ways.

You'll get fewer blisters, but cheap footwear could also lead to injury from a fall, Ploot said. "Clip your toenails to make sure the boots fit properly," he said.

Ploot said it's a good idea to bring an elastic wrap, in case of ankle sprain, which is an inversion of the ankle. "People can do a host of different things to their ankle, from a sprain to a break, but it's often not just one single structure in the foot that is injured," he said. When his son sprained an ankle in Glacier National Park, far from the vehicle, the ankle wrap helped stabilize the injury and allowed them to get him out of the backcountry without further injury. "When you start to treat the injury in the field, you're much better off," Ploot said. "If you limp your way home for five miles, you're just going to injure your foot structure further."

Bring blister treatment, such as Moleskin, Ploot said. Use it with new boots at the first sign of a hot spot and on the first few hikes of the year. If you are hurting when you get home, see a doctor, Ploot said. Some injuries are deep inside the foot and take a trained physician to detect how to treat them.

Ploot said a wider boot is more important than a tall boot, when hiking on moderate terrrain, but for extreme off-trail use, a taller, over the ankle boot is recommended. 

If you tend to have tight Achilles, get some doctor-recommended stretches that will help loosen up this important tendon. This tendon is able to support and propel your body's weight and is super strong — and super important. "You'd be hard pressed to find a muscle tendon in the human body that is stronger," Ploot said.

Some foot injuries can get chronic with daily use after an injury, Ploot said. Ice, rest, immobilization and physical therapy are best remedies, he said. "Some people just don't get off the injury enough after it occurs," he said.

Downhill walking uses an entirely different technique and set of muscles, Ploot said, and using hiking poles can help mitigate downhill injury.

The weekend warrior carrying a heavy backpack is prone to injury, Ploot said, so prepare your body in advance of hunting season. "Don't overdo those first few hikes," he said.



Montana's millions of acres of private land offer excellent hunting opportunities—the only catch is gaining the landowner's permission to hunt.

It is Montana law that hunters obtain landowner permission to hunt on all private land.
Here are a few things to keep in mind that will greatly improve results when attempting to secure hunting access to private land.

  • Show courtesy to the landowner and make hunting arrangements by calling or visiting at times convenient to the landowner.
  • Plan ahead and secure permission well in advance of the actual hunting date.
  • Provide complete information about yourself and your hunting companions, including vehicle descriptions and license numbers.
  • Explain what type of hunting you wish to do, and be sure to ask any questions which can help clarify the conditions of access.
  • Follow the landowner’s instructions, and bring with you only the companions for whom you obtained landowner permission.

Hunters and landowners can learn more by investing some time on Montana's Hunter-Landowner Stewardship Project, an information program for anyone interested in promoting responsible hunter behavior and good hunter and landowner relationships in Montana. Visit FWP's website at, then click "Hunting" under Quick Links.
For more information on hunting access in Montana, check out the "Hunter Access" pages on FWP's website at

Take care of your harvest

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reminds hunters that simple, common sense precautions are part of the safe and proper field dressing of big game.
The Antelope 900 series archery season opened Aug. 15, followed by the general archery season for antelope, bear, wolf, deer, elk and mountain lion on Sept. 3.
“While the chance of contracting a disease from wild game is remote, it makes good sense to take a few simple precautions,” said Ron Aasheim, spokesman for FWP in Helena.


Here are some of the precautions that FWP recommends to hunters handling harvested game including waterfowl, game birds, deer and elk.

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or that appears sick. Contact FWP if you see an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing any game animal.
  • Bone out the meat from your deer or elk. Avoid sawing through bone when you can and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize contact with animal brain, intestines, fluids, spinal tissue and feces.
  • Be mindful of humans and domestic dogs touching or coming in contact with animal parts or feces as it can be contaminated and transmit parasites.
  • Prevent dogs from eating the internal organs of game animals.
  • If you have your wild meat commercially processed, request that your animal is handled individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
  • Wash hands and forearms after field dressing game animals.
  • Cook all game meat until well done.
  • Early season big game hunts can present unique challenges when trying to get a large animal from the field to the processor. Here are some tips caring for big game when the weather is warm.
  • The bone is what retains the heat and is the source of the problem and causes meat to ultimately sour in the event that it does. You need to expose the bone to ambient air as the bone transfers the heat to the muscle.
  • Split down the spine from the inside, through the spine and backbone to the hide. The carcass should be opened up all the way from the pelvis to the neck.
  • Open up the round area by cutting through the round into the bone as that's another place that is a significant problem for heat retention.
  • Have lots of ice available. Bring an extra cooler and put blocks or bags of ice in it. Ice stored in a cooler that's left closed will last for days and be available when you need it in the field. Blocks last longer than bags. Water should be drained from the cooler to maintain the ice.
  • Skinning a carcass cools it fastest, but if you're making a relatively short trip from the field to home or field to camp, you can fill the body cavity of an unskinned deer or elk with ice bags to help cool it. Be beware, body heat can remain in the thickest parts of the animal, such as the hindquarters, and stuffing with ice is only a temporary measure. Do not rely on ice in the body cavity to cool larger animals like elk and moose.
  • If it's too warm to hang a deer or elk outside, skin and quarter it and put the meat on ice. A large cooler will hold most or all of a deer that's been quartered, or an elk that has been cut into smaller pieces. Remember to leave evidence of sex, as per rules on page 15 of the 2016 deer, elk and antelope regulations.
  • Know where the nearest meat processing facilities are located and know their hours of operation. Do a little homework before your hunt so you will know where and when you can take your game to cool it quickly.

NEW SEASONS this year

This past winter, Montana's Fish & Wildlife Commission approved elk shoulder seasons in 43 hunting districts for the 2016/2017 hunting season with the primary purpose being to reduce elk populations in areas that are over population objective as outlined in the Montana Elk Management Plan. Montana law (MCA 87-1-323) requires Fish, Wildlife & Parks to manage elk populations to objective, and both Gov. Steve Bullock and our own Fish & Wildlife Commission have tasked FWP officials with addressing these concerns.

A shoulder season is a firearms season that occurs outside the 5-week general firearms and archery seasons. While most shoulder seasons focus on antlerless elk harvest on private land and are not intended to replace or reduce harvest during the existing archery or 5-week general firearms seasons, a few are meant to address problematic distribution of elk.

Shoulder seasons will vary in timing and function from hunting district to hunting district. In some districts the shoulder seasons will start as early as Aug. 15 and go as late as Feb. 15. In some areas, the shoulder season will occur at the same time as the archery season, while in others it will not include the archery only season. Where a shoulder season and archery season occur at the same time, the shoulder season will mostly be limited to private land.

Key points for hunters to remember

Season timing and lengths will be tailored to each hunting district, so know your regulations.

  • Shoulder seasons will be focused on antlerless elk found primarily on private land.

  • Hunters can typically use their general season elk license, antlerless elk permit or an elk B license, depending on the hunting district. Hunters need to check the regulations for each district.

  • Hunters should start early establishing contacts and building relationships with landowners who may offer access for shoulder season hunts.

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