The number of nonresident hunters pursuing deer in Montana this fall will be fewer than in recent years due to a decision by the FWP Commission at its May 8 meeting in Helena.
Fish, Wildlife & Parks had recommended, and the Commission agreed, that nearly 1,200 nonresident deer licenses available for the 1998 season not be sold to hunters visiting the state this fall. One possible exception would be to issue around 100 of the licenses to those nonresidents who had sought, but failed to receive, landowner-sponsored Deer Combination licenses. Whether those hunters will be issued licenses will depend on the location of the lands that would be hunted.
Under present Montana law, 17,000 Big Game Combination Licenses are available to nonresident hunters. A Big Game Combination License consists of an elk, deer, upland game bird, and full-season fishing license. Prior to 1998, this represented the only license a nonresident could obtain to legally hunt elk in Montana, and it included a deer license.
Now, due to the passage of Senate Bill 394 by the 1997 Montana Legislature, the FWP Commission has the authority to sell "elk-only" Big Game Combination Licenses. SB 394 also gives the Commission the authority to determine the use of any of the deer licenses that could be reissued.
Nearly 1,200 nonresident hunters applied for and received an "Elk-Only" Combination License for 1998. FWP Director Patrick Graham said the recommendation by FWP--and the decision by the Commission not to reissue the nearly 1,200 deer licenses freed-up through the purchase of those elk-only combination licenses--was made in the long-term interests of Montana's deer populations. The decision represents a continuation of very conservative regulations that were enacted over the last couple of years in response to low mule deer numbers in much of the state, Graham said. In fact, he noted, the Commission's decision will lead to what will be, for the 1998 season, the most restrictive deer hunting regulations in recent Montana history.
After three years of low fawn survival, this year's relatively light winter has enabled FWP wildlife managers to offer a favorable prognosis for improving deer populations. According to Glenn Erickson, chief of wildlife management for FWP in Helena, although total numbers of deer remain low in many areas, fawn survival has improved this year.
"We're hoping that this spring will also bring better fawn production for our deer herds, which could be the start to recovery. But next year's winter weather, and the survival of this year's fawns, will be the key to any appreciable recovery," he said.