Montana’s mule deer populations are generally at or below long-term averages across the state, especially in the eastern half of the state where the winter was particularly severe. White-tailed deer numbers are generally better, with good numbers in many locations except for areas in central Montana where deer experienced an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease late this summer.
FWP surveys show mule deer experienced major population decreases in northeastern Montana in FWP Region 6, especially in hunting districts 611, 630, 652, and 670. In those districts, antlerless mule deer "B" licenses were reduced by more than 90 percent below last year's levels in some cases. In southeastern Montana around the Miles City area, mule deer populations are below the long-term average, though white-tailed deer populations are above the long-term average.
"If the weather cooperates this fall, deer hunters overall will likely experience average hunting conditions at best,” Kujala said. “The dips in deer numbers experienced in some areas due to weather-related winter losses and reduced fawn production will take some time to climb out of.”
For more on deer hunting, please check the 2011 deer, elk and antelope hunting regulations available on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.
Here is a regional look at Montana’s deer populations:
FWP Region 1—Northwestern Montana near Kalispell
Hunting forecasts are pretty similar to last year in northwestern Montana. Following last year’s long and snowy winter, hunting seasons remain in a conservative package for deer. Age structure for bucks remains good so hunters should have opportunities to take older aged animals again this year. Hunting access is good in Region 1 but the habitats are densely forested and relatively steep so hunters should plan accordingly. FWP Region 1 surveys show 30 white-tailed fawns per 100 adults and a population on the rise. The mule deer population is stable with 31 fawns per 100 adults.
FWP Region 2—Western Montana near Missoula
Mule deer numbers in the Missoula vicinity are similar to the low levels that occurred in the early 2000s. White-tailed deer populations recruited a good fawn crop, despite the long winter, and white-tailed deer numbers show early signs of an upward trend in scattered locations across the region. Hunters may see a number of young bucks in many places this fall.
FWP Region 3—Southwestern Montana near Bozeman
Mule deer populations are holding steady, although the number of mule deer in the past five years has been trending downward. Most hunting districts are limited to buck harvest only. White-tailed deer populations continue to be good, especially along river bottoms and on private land. Overall, deer numbers are good, but remain below historic highs.
FWP Region 4—Central Montana near Great Falls
White-tailed deer are numerous throughout much of the region with plenty of opportunities for hunters to take antlerless deer as well as a buck. Mule deer numbers range from well below average to average. Of particular concern is the low number of fawn mule deer that survived winter and late spring. FWP lowered quotas for antlerless deer B licenses, and hunters throughout most of FWP Region 4 may take only a mule deer buck with their general deer license.
Mule deer numbers along the southern edge of the Rocky Mountain Front appeared good, while around the Highwood Mountains biologists counted nine fawns per 100 adults, where they should see about 40 fawns per 100 adults. On the north side of the Little Belt Mountains, FWP counted an average of 18 fawns per 100 adults—about 63 percent of the long term average.
FWP Region 5—Southcentral Montana near Billings
Mule deer spring population counts showed deer numbers are down 10 to 50 percent throughout the region – a continuation of a two- or three-year trend. Winter weather and a wet spring impacted mule deer, particularly last year’s fawns. This spring, biologists counted only 10 to 20 fawns per 100 adults. Normally they would expect to see more than 30.
White-tailed deer living in the prairie environments north of U.S. Highway 12 have been in slow decline for a number of years because of hard hunting pressure and poor fawn winter survival.
Until recently, biologists were encouraged by white-tailed deer numbers in the riparian corridors surrounding the Stillwater, Boulder, Rosebud and Yellowstone rivers. However, this summer a number of white-tailed deer have died – apparently of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) – along the Yellowstone, Musselshell, and Tongue rivers and their tributaries north and east of Billings. The contagious disease is spread by a tiny biting gnat that apparently is thriving throughout the region as a result of abundant water and hot temperatures this summer.
FWP Region 6—Northeastern Montana near Glasgow
Although white-tailed deer populations fared better than mule deer last winter, they took a big hit from EHD in late summer. White-tailed deer numbers in Phillips and Valley counties were especially hard hit. Reports of EHD have been spottier in Blaine County and in the Northeast corner in Sheridan, Richland and Roosevelt counties, although mortalities have been reported in all of these areas as well. The number of antlerless white-tailed deer licenses has been sharply reduced as a result of winter mortality and EHD.
FWP surveys show mule deer experienced major population decreases across the region, especially in hunting districts 611, 630, 652, and 670. Fawn production was also hampered in many areas by the long, wet spring. All FWP Region 6 hunting districts will see substantial decreases in antlerless mule deer licenses this year.
FWP Region 7—Southeastern Montana near Miles City
Mule deer populations are below the long-term average and white-tailed deer populations are above the long-term average.
Miles City and the surrounding area saw a severe, prolonged winter that reduced mule deer numbers and recruitment. Overall the mule deer population across the region is 12 percent below the long-term average. Recent recruitment levels, a measure of animals that survive the first year of life, averaged 41 fawns per 100 adults down from typical averages of 60 fawns per 100 adults.
For more information about mule deer hunting in Montana, visit the 2011 Deer, Elk & Antelope hunting regulations on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov or the Hunt Planner available on the Hunting tab.