Deer populations in most of the state are thriving and numbers are recovering in northeastern Montana where a harsh winter two years ago knocked back populations.
“We expect to see some good deer hunting this season, and populations in general have been stable to increasing in most regions across the state,” said Gary Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife management bureau chief. The rifle season for deer is generally Oct. 23 to Nov. 27. Please check the 2005 regulations for details on season types and dates.
FWP's winter and spring mule deer surveys generally showed good winter fawn survival, and good forage throughout much of the state. July and August's dry weather did reduce the overall quality of forage in many parts of the state, reducing to some degree the fat stores deer were able to build for going into winter.
“The deer are there, now it is up to the weather we get during the hunting season,” Hammond said. "Cold weather and good snow will move deer into the more accessible, lower elevations and improve the harvest."
To monitor the effects of weather and other mule deer population dynamics, FWP annually conducts mule deer surveys across the state on 13 census areas and 67 trend areas.
FWP biologists track fawn over-winter survival rates, the ratio of bucks to does and the ratio of fawns to adult animals, and size of the total population. These numbers are essential to deer management and regulation setting.
Hammond said that the well being of wildlife is tied directly to the quality and quantity of forage. In turn, the quality of the forage each year depends on precipitation, weather trends, and other factors such as over browsing.
“Generally speaking, we’ve had good conditions for mule deer and both mule and white-tailed deer are abundant in the state. We anticipate a good hunting season ahead in the vast majority of hunting districts,” Hammond said.
In FWP Region 1, Kalispell and the surrounding northwestern area, mule deer populations are holding steady with good winter survival. Mule deer hunting in northwest Montana is generally limited to antlered bucks, with the exception of HD 103 where special antlerless permits are offered. The region wide average of 34 mule deer fawns per 100 adults observed this spring is considered a good ratio for northwestern Montana. Good mule deer populations can be found in the Whitefish, Salish, Purcell, Swan, and Cabinet mountain ranges.
In FWP Region 2, Missoula and the surrounding area, western Montana’s relatively short winter allowed for good mule deer and white-tailed deer fawn survival. In general, populations are stable to increasing. Spring survey flights indicated that nine out of 10 trend areas are at or above the eight-year average for the region. Fawn recruitment was good this year, averaging 49 fawns/100 adults.
In FWP Region 3, Bozeman and the surrounding area, hunters should see average to slightly above average numbers of deer due to good over-winter survival and a wet spring. Deer B licenses are available for many hunting districts. A few districts in the eastern portion of FWP Region 3 now provide either-sex mule deer hunting opportunities on the deer A tag. Whitetail populations are also at relatively high levels this year. Most whitetail in this region are found on private land, so hunters need to make arrangements for access early.
In FWP Region 4, Great Falls and the surrounding area, there are thriving mule deer populations reflected in ample surplus antlerless mule deer licenses this year. Mule deer populations are at or above the long-term averages in parts of the region. A number of hunting opportunities occur on private land in FWP Region 4 and hunters are urged to obtain landowner permission to hunt well in advance.
In FWP Region 5, Billings and the surrounding area, biologists expect mule deer populations in the mountain and foothill areas to be good. Fawn production and survival appears to be below average, but numbers of adult deer remain good. In the prairie areas, mule deer seem to be suffering from the long-term effects of drought, with fawn and adult numbers appearing to be in somewhat of a decline. The effect seems to be greater in the eastern portions of the region.
In FWP Region 6, Glasgow and the surrounding area, fawn production was high, so hunters may see good numbers of very young deer across the region. In the western portion of FWP Region 6, populations are strong north of the Milk River and moderate in the Bear Paw Mountains and western Missouri River Breaks. Farther east, one- and two-year old mule deer will be scarce as herds rebuild from the winter of 2003-2004. In the central portion of the region, deer numbers remain below the long-term average, but are steadily improving from the lows of the late 1990's.
In FWP Region 7, Miles City and the surrounding area, deer are abundant due to good winter survival and a strong yearling age class. Winter fawn survival was somewhat below previous years. Deer are distributed over a large geographic area as water is available in most reservoirs and ponds this year and good forage remains from spring's abundant moisture.