Missouri River Breaks Elk Surveys Completed
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: April 14, 2022
R6 Press release by Marc Kloker
GLASGOW – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists completed their surveys of the Missouri River Breaks elk hunting districts (HDs) 621, 622, and 630 in February.
Overall, the surveys indicate that elk numbers are below current population objectives for each respective portion of the Breaks. Appropriate management actions, such as adjusting antlerless B-licenses for this fall, may occur in some districts.
These elk surveys are done on an every-other-year basis in conjunction with bighorn sheep surveys. The surveys for neighboring HDs were flown within similar time periods to minimize any issues with elk movement between HDs.
HD 621 and 622
Statewide deer and elk coordinator Lindsay Parsons surveyed HDs 621 and 622 over six days, from Feb. 17-23, and totaled nearly 23 hours of helicopter flight time. Patchy snow in 621 and the western portion of 622 made for more difficult survey conditions but improved further east in 622 with good snow cover and good observability.
In HD 621, 552 elk were observed, which is 29% below the 2020 survey and 44% below the long-term average of 991. There were 39 bulls per 100 cows, which is below the average of 52 bulls per 100 cows. Also observed were 22 calves per 100 cows, which is well below the average of 46 calves per 100 cows.
For HD 622, a total of 740 elk were observed. This is 39% below the 2020 survey and 39% below the average. There were 88 bulls per 100 cows, which is well above the average of 45 bulls per 100 cows. The calf to cow ratio was 25 calves per 100 cows, which is below the average of 45 calves per 100 cows.
“Fewer bulls were observed in the eastern portion of HD 621 as compared to previous years. This corresponds with more bulls observed just to the east in HD 622,” says Scott Thompson, Region 6 Wildlife Manager. “This suggests a slight change in winter distribution of bulls during this survey.”
In total, 1,292 elk were observed in 621 and 622, a decrease of 35% from the 2020 survey. Elk numbers are below the population objective level of 1,400-1,650 set by the 2005 Montana Elk Management Plan. The calf to cow ratio for this portion of the Missouri River Breaks is 23 calves per 100 cows, which is lower than the average of 45. The ratio of 64 bulls per 100 cows is above the average of 46 and above the Breaks Elk Management Unit objective of 30 bulls per 100 cows.
HD 630
During the 2022-2023 season setting process, the 622/630 hunting district boundary was moved from Timber Creek east to Burke Ranch and Ridge Roads. Hunting districts 630, 631 and 632 were combined into the new HD 630. Survey data was adjusted in years 2014-2020 for hunting districts 622 and 630 to place historic observations in the current hunting district for comparisons.
Biologist Ryan Williamson surveyed HD 630 over two days, from Feb. 22-23, for 13 hours via helicopter. Ground cover varied from patchy to complete snow cover across the district, and animals were easily observable.
In HD 630, 254 elk were observed. This is 14% below the average, and below the objective of the 300-350 elk that is identified in the Elk Management Plan from 2005. There were 55 bulls per 100 cows, below the average of 63 bulls per 100 cows, but still well above the objective of at least 30 bulls per 100 cows. There were 55 calves per 100 cows, which is slightly higher than the average of 54 calves per 100 cows.
Missouri River Breaks overall numbers
In total, 1,546 elk were observed during the 2022 Missouri River Breaks survey in Region 6. This represents a decrease of 35% from the 2020 survey. Elk numbers observed this year for the three HD’s are below the objective level of 1,700 – 2,000, set by the 2005 Montana Elk Management Plan. This is the lowest number of elk observed during the survey in the past 25 years.
“Lower total elk numbers, combined with low calf to cow ratios, will result in FWP recommending a more conservative antlerless harvest this fall,” noted Thompson. “While the 2022 fall hunting season dates and structure including shoulder seasons have been set, we still have an opportunity to adjust antlerless B-licenses in response to lower elk numbers.”
“The recent drought conditions may also be affecting the elk population to some degree,” adds Thompson. “We will keep an eye on elk numbers and continue to adjust license quotas as necessary to correspond with any significant changes in elk populations.”