Public Lands & Waters photo

Swan Lake Ranger District, Flathead National Forest
: northwest Montana
Size: 362,847 acres
ZIP: 59911

“Whitetails reign supreme here,” says the FWP’s region 1 wildlife manager, Jim Williams, “and there’s a reason: We’ve got a lot of them, and an excellent age structure.” An official measurer for Boone and Crockett, Williams has tallied several typical 150-class deer; his best ever was a nontypical 180. Williams says all the land west of highway 93, from Kalispell to the Idaho border (which includes millions of acres of the LoLo, Kootenai and Flathead national forests and private timber company land open to public hunting) provides tough hunting but excellent whitetail refuge. A notable exception to that rule is the Swan Valley, which lies east of 93 between the Mission and Swan Range mountains in the Swan Lake Ranger District. Hunters here can choose to hunt boggy bottoms, rolling foothills or steep mountain slopes. “The stars are lined up for an exceptional hunt this year,” due to another mild winter, Williams says, “and I expect to see a couple of record-book bucks.”