Due to continuing low numbers of mule deer, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission now is seeking public comment on a proposal that would close several hunting districts in northeastern Montana to all mule deer hunting this fall.
Under the proposal, which was tentatively adopted by the Commission at its May 8 meeting in Helena, deer hunting in Hunting Districts 621, 622, 623, 630, 631, 632 and 670 would be limited to hunting of either-sex white-tailed deer for the 1998 season. The only exception to the proposed mule deer hunting closure in these districts is that the 75 "Deer B" licenses to be used by bowhunters pursuing antlerless mule deer at the Ft. Peck Dam site would not be affected by the closure.
If passed, the proposal would rescind regulations as they were previously adopted for the 1998 season. Existing regulations call for hunting of antlered-buck mule deer or either-sex white-tailed deer in all of these districts during the general and archery-only seasons. The tentative prohibition on hunting mule deer in these districts would be in effect during both the special archery-only and general seasons.
Deer hunting in Hunting District 652 also would be limited under the proposal to either-sex white-tailed deer, with no hunting of antlerless mule deer allowed during the general or archery-only seasons. Hunters holding one of the 125 special permits for taking antlered-buck mule deer in the district would not be affected by the proposed closure.
Commission member Darlyne Dascher, a rancher in the Fort Peck area and the representative for the FWP Commission District in which the proposed closure would be in effect, urged the five-member Commission to close the mule deer season in the hunting districts proposed.
"Mule deer numbers have declined steadily for the last four years," she said, "and recent surveys of several trend areas have reported only 10 percent as many mule deer bucks present as there were in 1994. My conscience tells me we don't have a huntable population, that we need to protect the few deer that remain."
Dascher emphasized that hunting is only one factor in the present mule deer decline and that "stopping hunting won't bring back the deer--we need help from Mother Nature."
"Many ranchers and some hunters," she continued, "have told me we need to give the deer a break. On our ranch, in Hunting District 652, I know coyotes got most of the fawns during the past winter. So we're sending this proposal out for comment. We want to hear what the public thinks."
Comments on the proposed closure should be sent to the FWP Commission, PO BOX 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701 (FAX: 406-444-4952) by May 27. The Commission is scheduled to act on the proposed closure at its next meeting, which was rescheduled from June 5 to May 29 in Helena.