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Rules and Regulations

NWR boundary signIn order to protect National Wildlife Refuge resources, reduce competing uses, and safeguard visitors, it is necessary to establish regulations on the use of the Refuge.  Your cooperation is necessary to help us properly manage the Refuge and its wildlife.


Recreational Opportunities and Visitor Information 


Many wildlife-oriented recreational opportunities are offered at Charles M. Russell NWR, including hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife observation, camping and hiking. The visitor information that follows will help insure that your Refuge visit will be safe and enjoyable. Please observe all the following regulations to protect yourself and Refuge resources. Activities not described below are prohibited on the Refuge. Contact Refuge staff or visit any Refuge office to inquire about regulations or Refuge operations.



Mechanized Vehicles

To limit erosion and to protect plants and wildlife, mechanized vehicles are permitted only on numbered Refuge roads that are designated as open. Seasonal road closures may occur.

Hard-surfaced, all-weather roads are limited to U.S. Highway 191 on the western end of the Refuge and several highways around Fort Peck on the eastern end of the Refuge. Graveled roads include 101-107, 201 to the Rock Creek Boat Ramp, and 321. All other Refuge roads are passable only in dry weather. When wet, these roads become extremely slick and travel can be impossible. Visitors should contact refuge staff or check locally for road conditions before traveling off main highways.

Operation of mechanized vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off of number roads designated as open is illegal. Off-road vehicle travel is not permitted for retrieving downed game. The only exception is that direct, off-road travel is permitted to access temporary overnight campsites within 100 yards of a designated road.

ATVs (motorcycles, quadricycles, etc.) belonging to Montana residents must be street legal and have a metal license plate. Operators must also possess the proper driver's license. Anyone intending to operate an ATV on the Refuge should contact the Refuge staff to ensure the ATV meets the necessary requirements for legal operation. Non-resident ATV owners who wish to operate their ATVs on the Refuge should also contact the Refuge staff regarding licensing requirements.

In winter conditions, mechanized vehicles are restricted to numbered roads that are designated as open and the ice of the Fort Peck Reservoir.

Some access roads cross private lands. Please exercise courtesy and respect private property.

Drivers should be prepared for emergencies and changing conditions. Always carry shovels, tire chains, first aid kits, and emergency food and water.

Properly licensed snowmobiles are allowed only on the frozen surface of Fort Peck Reservoir.

Bicycles may be used only on numbered roads, including seasonally closed roads.


Hunting on the Refuge is subject to Federal and State regulations. Consult all current Federal and State regulations prior to hunting on the Refuge.

Big game hunting seasons and harvest quotas on the Refuge may be more restrictive than State regulations. Check Refuge regulations, available for the current year starting May 1, either at the Refuge headquarters, field stations, or the link located in the side bar of this page.

A Montana hunting license is required.

Hunting on the Refuge is permitted for mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, big horn sheep, elk, coyotes, waterfowl, and upland game birds.

Coyote hunting is allowed from the first day of the antelope rifle season through March 1. Coyotes may be hunted only from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset (no permit required). Coyotes cannot be hunted with the aid of electronic calls, aircraft, or mechanized vehicles.

Waterfowl and upland game bird hunting is allowed in accordance with State seasons and limits.

Hunters must use and may only possess steel or other approved non-toxic shot in the field while hunting waterfowl on the Refuge.

The use of dogs for hunting waterfowl and upland game birds is permitted. During periods other than hunting seasons, dogs must be on a leash and not left unattended.

All other wildlife is protected (this includes, but is not limited to, rabbits, prairie dogs, badgers, bobcats, and mountain lions) unless Refuge-specific hunting seasons are established by Federal regulations.

Trapping is not allowed on the Refuge.

The use of artificial lights and/or electronic calls to attract, search for, or spot wildlife is prohibited.

Portable tree stands are permitted. All portable tree stands must have a name, address, phone number, and automated licensing system (ALS) number visibly marked on the stand. Each hunter is limited to three stands. Portable tree stands can be installed on August 1 and must be removed by December 15 of each year. The construction or use of any permanent tree stand or ladder, and the use of nails, wire, or screws, is prohibited.


While transporting firearms in vehicles over designated routes of travel, firearms must be unloaded and cased or dismantled. Firearms or bows, when legal for the species pursued, may be removed from a vehicle ONLY in conjunction with a legal hunt for which the hunter is licensed. Firearms or bows may not be discharged at any other time.


Fishing is permitted on the Refuge. Anglers often catch catfish, walleye, northern pike, sauger, perch, smallmouth bass, bullhead, paddlefish, and lake trout from the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir.

A Montana fishing license is required to fish on the Refuge. State fishing regulations and limits apply to the Refuge.

Ice fishing houses are permitted on Fort Peck Reservoir from December 1 to March 31. The owner's name and address must be attached to the outside wall of the structure.


Boating is permitted on the Refuge.

Montana boating laws and regulations apply to all Refuge waters.

Extra shear pins, gasoline, and a first aid kit are highly recommended as standard equipment.

From the Refuge's western boundary to the Fred Robinson Bridge, the Missouri River is designated as unit of the National Wild and Scenic River System. Special regulations apply to this segment of the river. General information regarding the wild and scenic portion of the river may be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Office in the Lewistown, Montana or visit the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Boaters' Guide.

Water levels on the rest of the Missouri River, between the Fred Robinson Bridge (Highway 191) and the Fort Peck Reservoir, fluctuate considerably and dictate what types of boats may be suitable for use. Canoes are suitable during all seasons. Low flows during any time of the year other than spring runoff can make the use of boats with outboard motors dangerous. During periods of low flow, boaters should be cautious of sand bars and other hazards when boating in the river and the reservoir. Some boat ramps may not reach the water during low water periods.


Except where designated as closed, camping (other than backpacking) must take place within 100 yards of the waters of the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir or within 100 yards of numbered roads that are designated as open.

Direct access by mechanized vehicles from a numbered road is permitted to and from temporary overnight campsites within 100 yards of numbered roads designated as open. Select the most direct access to avoid damaged to soils and vegetation.

ALL camping is limited to 2 weeks within any 30 day period. Any property, including camping equipment, boats, trailers, and other personal property left unattended for a period in excess of 72 hours is subject to removal.

Please check at any Refuge office for fire restrictions during dry periods.

Select a safe place for campfires. Build only small fires, and make certain that your fire is completely out when you leave. Campfires must be attended at all times.

Use of dead and downed wood for campfires is allowed on the Refuge.

All human waste, including tissue paper, must be buried immediately.

Help keep the land and wildlife healthy. Please pack out all trash, and restore your campsite to a natural condition when you leave.

Hiking and Horseback Riding

Caution-Back-country travel, whether by foot or on horseback, requires special preparations and precautions. Drinking water is generally unavailable. Trails are unmarked.

Back-country travelers should be familiar with the isolated character of the Refuge and should be prepared for emergencies. Weather conditions can change rapidly - be prepared! Expertise with map and compass, or GPS navigational system is recommended.

Only noxious weed seed free forage is allowed on the Refuge to prevent the spread of noxious weeds. Contact any Refuge office for a list of approved vendors.

All horses, mules, llamas, and other types of pack animals must be tied, hobbled, or picketed while in camp. No enclosure may be used to contain animals.


Aircraft may not land on the uplands of the Refuge.

The use of aircraft over Refuge lands to disturb, harass, drive, or hunt wildlife, or to locate wounded animals, is strictly prohibited.

Landing of fixed-wing aircraft is permitted on the surface of Fort Peck Reservoir within a 0.5 mile radius landing zone centered around the following points:
Crooked Creek: 47° 26' 07 " x 107° 55' 10.6"
Devil's Creek: 47° 37' 34" x 107° 39' 25.6"
Fourchette Bay: 47° 39' 53" x 107° 39' 38.6"
McGuire Creek: 47° 38' 02" x 106° 14' 17.9"
Nelson Creek: 47° 34' 23" x 106° 13' 44.9"
(Datum: 1927 North American Datum)

Collection of Natural Items and Artifacts 

Collection of shed antlers and animals skulls is illegal. These items are an important source of renewable calcium for elk, deer, and other wildlife on the Refuge.

There are many interesting historic buildings on the Refuge. Please enjoy them as they are, and do not remove parts of the buildings or artifacts found within or around them.

Do not remove natural items like fossils, rocks, dried wood, and black diamond willow from the Refuge.

Wilderness Areas

The UL Bend Wilderness Area is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The 20,819 acre area has been set aside for non-mechanized travel and use. Hiking, horseback riding, photography, hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and camping are among the permitted uses of the wilderness area. There are several proposed wilderness areas within the Charles M. Russell NWR and UL Bend NWR that also have special travel restrictions. These areas are identified on the Refuge through the use of signs.

When in doubt about any regulation or for further information, contact Refuge staff or the Refuge Manager.


Last Updated: May 12, 2014
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