Antelope hunters can expect stable to slightly lower than normal numbers of antelope in much of north-central and northeastern Montana this fall, but in southern Phillips County, pronghorn numbers are nearly twice last year’s observed population.
Montana’s archery antelope season opened Aug. 15; the rifle season opens Oct. 7, a week earlier than indicated in the printed regulations.
Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists indicate that in general, the last couple of easy winters have allowed good survival of adult pronghorn but the prolonged drought has impacted fawn production across Region 6. The exception is Hunting District 620, which stretches across southern Phillips and a sliver of southwestern Valley County, where antelope populations are higher than they have been in the last decade.
Wildlife biologists survey antelope each summer, after fawns are old enough to be visible from the air, to assess adult survival to quantify fawn production. Based on those surveys, biologists say that antelope populations across the region are at average to slightly below average levels.
Here’s a look at pronghorn populations and hunting outlooks across Region 6:
Hunting Districts 600 and 690
In the western third of Region 6, antelope populations are down about 20 percent from last year’s levels, reports biologist Al Rosgaard in Havre. In Antelope District 600, which stretches from northern Hill to northern Phillips counties north of U.S. Highway 2, the total population is down just under 20 percent from last year and buck numbers are down nearly 40 percent from last year.
“Our fawn numbers were also down and could be the result of dry conditions in the summer of 2006 that impacted the physical condition of does,” says Rosgaard. While antelope numbers were higher in the eastern end of District 600, the hunting quota of 900 either-sex and 225 doe/fawn licenses remains the same this year compared to last year.
In Antelope District 690, which covers southern Hill, Chouteau and Blaine counties total observed populations are down about 17 percent from last year and about on par with the last five years. Rosgaard noted that buck numbers were about 10 percent below last year’s total. The license quotas of 1,000 either-sex and 525 doe/fawn licenses remain unchanged from last year.
HUNTING DISTRICT 620
The bright spot in the regional antelope picture is this hunting district that stretches from Highway 2 south to Fort Peck Reservoir and from the Little Rocky Mountains east to Larb and Timber creeks. Either-sex licenses were increased from 800 to 1,200 this year and doe/fawn licenses were bumped from 100 last year to 500 this year.
The reason, explains biologist Mark Sullivan, is a pronounced increase in numbers of both adult and juvenile antelope.
“Over the past seven years antelope numbers have fluctuated between 350 and 580 animals in our two counting units in District 620,” he says, “but numbers increased dramatically in 2007. The current buck-to-doe ratio is 58 bucks per 100 does while the fawn ratio is 59 fawns per 100 does.”
The increase is probably due to mild winter conditions and lower hunter success last year because of muddy road and trail conditions. This spring’s rains also benefited habitat conditions and aided fawn survival.
HUNTING DISTRICTS 630, 650 and 670
Antelope numbers are stable to slightly lower in the eastern portion of Region 6. No adjustments to license quotas were recommended in these antelope districts, where surveyed populations are at or near their long-term averages. Biologists noted some increases in Hunting District 650, in McCone and Richland counties, but because license quotas were increased to a high level last year (600 either-sex and 100 doe/fawn licenses) the consensus was to maintain those quotas for this year’s season.
In order to hunt buck antelope in Montana, hunters had to apply for a special permit by June 1. Some surplus doe/fawn licenses were sold over the counter last month, but surplus tags for Region 6 sold out quickly. Hunters with archery-only (900-00) tags can hunt any open district through Nov. 11; rifle antelope season opens Oct. 7 and continues through Nov. 11. Archery hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of hunter orange if they are hunting during a concurrent rifle season.