Whitetail deer harvest picked up considerably during the final weekend of the deer and elk hunting season, as snow and the rut combined for ideal hunting conditions.
At the six northwest Montana check stations through Sunday, November 28, a total of 17, 564 hunters checked 1,055 white-tailed deer (888 of these were bucks), 159 mule deer, and 158 elk for a 7.8 percent rate of hunters with game. Reflecting the improved hunting conditions, hunters checked 253 whitetail bucks through the check stations on Saturday and Sunday. The counts at the six northwest Montana check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.
According to FWP Wildlife Manager Jim Williams, the number of whitetail bucks checked picked up over the last two weekends of the general season because of ideal hunting conditions. Snow and cold temperatures spurred animals to move down to lower elevation winter habitats.
The regional deer harvest has been low the last few years and based on the check station sample this year it will be similar. However, the whitetail deer population is not continuing to decline across northwest Montana as bucks checked at most stations have stabilized or increased despite a drop in hunter numbers this year. Biologists will also be looking at the age classes of checked deer to give us a clearer picture of population trend.
Williams added that survival of whitetail fawns through their first winter will determine if the population will decrease or increase into next year. Fawn survival improved last year but this year’s early onset of cold temperatures and snow is a concern to biologists relative to fawn survival this coming winter. Biologists will be monitoring fawn survival closely this winter and into next spring because fawns are most susceptible to winter kill. Adult whitetail does typically survive well even in tough winters, based on years of following radio-collared whitetail does in northwest Montana. Both predators and hunting can have a significant impact on adult doe survival, however.
The Thompson Falls check station reported the most elk checked. Good snow conditions in the Lower Clark Fork resulted in a strong harvest of bulls.