by James E. Knight, Extension Wildlife Specialist


"Quota-based harvest involves closing the hunting season when the pre-determined target harvest has been reached as opposed to closing the season when a particular date is reached."

A new strategy to achieve population goals for elk in Montana has been proposed. This strategy will require thinking of cow elk harvest in a non-traditional way, but the idea is biologically sound and would solve problems associated with harvesting sufficient numbers of cows in many areas.

Quota-based harvest involves closing the hunting season when the pre-determined target harvest has been reached as opposed to closing the season when a particular date is reached. If it has been determined that 700 cows need to be harvested, the season should remain open until those 700 cows are harvested.

This concept has several advantages:

  • Assurance that elk populations are maintained within the guidelines of the Montana Elk Man - agement Plan.
  • It is unlikely that early snow, late snow or un - usual weather conditions would prevent harvest targets from being reached.
  • Elk that find refuge on lands closed to hunting can be harvested when they eventually come off the closed land, or they can stay on the closed land.
  • If the cow harvest quota were not reached dur - ing the regular elk season, unsuccessful regular- season elk hunters would be available to harvest cows until the quota is reached. This potentially solves the problem of having enough available hunters and this also increases hunter opportu - nity.
  • Areas of elk depredation could be targeted and hunted throughout depredation periods until the quota is reached or the depredation ceases.

Procedures to implement quota- based cow elk harvest need not be complicated:

  1. Areas that have been historically under harvested should be included in the quota-based harvest strate - gies. These areas might be district-wide or they might be sub-districts that include traditionally under har - vested areas. Caution should be taken to ensure that the sub-districts are not so small that the elk can retreat to areas outside the sub-district.
  2. Districts or sub-districts managed by quota harvest should NOT be special permit areas. All hunters with an unfilled elk tag should be encouraged to in the quota-based harvest districts. It is important that sufficient hunter numbers are available to har - vest cows until the quota is reached. If only limited numbers of hunters are available, quotas will not be reached and this strategy will be no more effective traditional harvest methods.
  3. Tracking harvest status need not be difficult. Elk - ers who harvest cows in quota districts are required report harvest to the regional office within 48 Hunters can report through a check station, in person at the Regional Office, or by telephone on a dedicated line with an answering machine available 24 hours a day. Hunters harvesting a cow need only supply their name, conservation number and district of harvest. It is the responsibility of hunters to know when the has been reached and hunting is closed.

Quota-based cow elk harvest could provide the tool needed to keep elk populations within the guidelines of the Montana Elk Management Plan. The only obstacles to implementing this strategy are tradition and fear of something new. Quota-based harvest is presently used in Montana for bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats This strategy could be equally effective in achieving elk harvest goals.


For more information, contact the Montana Beef Council at (406) 442-5111 or at Beef