A hunting season following major forest fires and prolonged drought is an excellent time for hunters to take extra care to 'read the land,'" says Glenn Erickson, FWP wildlife manager in Helena. "Being aware of the condition of the land may actually help hunters make choices that will increase their hunting success."
Montana's general big game hunting season is set to open Oct. 22 and will close Nov. 26. Hunters alert to the condition of vegetation and streams in an area will be able to evaluate how severely wildlife in the area may have been impacted by drought. FWP's range management specialist in Butte, Mike Frisina, says wildlife will stay within the home ranges, but may use the habitat differently to get the forage they need. For example, animals may be more likely to be found in gully bottoms, forested areas or within riparian areas.
Hunters will be less likely to find animals in areas that are extremely dry. However, areas where there is new green growth after fall rains or early season snowmelts may be especially attractive after summer's dry grass.
"It is possible hunters in some areas of the state will be a little disappointed with the size of the animals they take," Frisina says. "In a dry year like this one, I've seen deer at our check stations weighed in at 70-80 pounds that would ordinarily weigh about 130 pounds based on their overall size."
One positive outcome of this summer's weather is that bears across the state have had access to excellent berry and fruit crops, providing vital calories for a successful hibernation.
This is also good news for bear hunters who appear to be having success in the central area of the state, according to Gayle Joslin, FWP wildlife biologist in the Helena area office who tracks bear hunting successes in the area. So far this season, statistics Joslin keeps show bear hunters have been almost twice as successful this year as they were at this same time last year.
Bear hunters who take a bear are required to report it within five days. FWP tracks the sex and age of the animals to keep tabs on the population.