Hunting at Swan River National Wildlife Refuge

Woman dressed warmly in camouflage and standing in marsh reeds aims a shotgun into the air

Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage. Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciate of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs. Portions of the Refuge are open to waterfowl hunting following Montana State Regulations. All other hunting and trapping is prohibited on the Refuge. 

For bowhunters, all of Swan River National Wildlife Refuge offers the only public archery-only hunting for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and black bear in northwestern Montana. Black bear hunting is allowed only during the fall hunting season. For waterfowlers, about 40 percent of the 1,961-acre refuge is open for river or lake hunting. Lake hunters may use a boat or hunt from cover along shore (only refuge vegetation may be used to construct temporary blinds). River hunters must use boats as the water can be quite deep. Most hunters visit the refuge in the early season, when the refuge waters aren’t frozen and good numbers of gadwall, teal and wigeon can be found. Good hunting can still be found late in the season for mallard and Canada goose. Visiting the refuge in the late season can be an extreme sport due to frigid weather and rough lake waters. Hunters need to be extremely cautious while moving around the lake in a boat.

Big Game Hunting

Big game archery hunting for black bear, deer, and elk is allowed on all of Swan River NWR.

• No hunting or shooting is allowed within 100 yards of Refuge roads, trails, parking areas, or observation platforms.

• Temporary and portable blinds or blinds constructed of natural dead or down vegetation may be used.

• All blinds are available on a first-come first-served basis, regardless of who built the blind.

• All boats, decoys, portable blinds, other personal property, and any materials brought onto the Refuge for blind construction must be removed at the end of the day.

• Tree stands may be installed no sooner than August 1 and must be removed by December 15.

• Each hunter is allowed one stand or blind which must have the hunters Automated Licensing System (ALS) number visibly marked on the stand or blind.

• Stands or blinds must be placed a minimum of 100 yards from the Tollefson Trail, as shown on map.

• Game carts or boats may be used for big game retrieval.

Waterfowl Hunting

The Refuge is open to waterfowl hunting per the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Hunting Regulations and Refuge-specific regulations. Portions of the Refuge are open to waterfowl hunting. Waterfowl blinds may not be built on the Refuge prior to the opening day of waterfowl season.