MILES CITY — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biological check stations that were held across southeast Montana in Glendive, Hysham and Ashland saw an increase in the number of hunters than in 2012, however success in deer harvest was down from last year and 27% below the long-term average. Elk harvest in 2013 was 50% higher than the long term average.
The number of mule deer checked across the region in 2013 was 25% lower than what was observed in 2012 and 25% below the long term average. White tailed deer were roughly 50% of what was checked in 2012 and 66% of the long term average. Reduced deer numbers checked in 2013 are a reflection of lower overall deer populations across the region and a reduction in the number of antlerless mule deer licenses available and sold.
Deer numbers in southeast Montana are still below long-term averages. Mule Deer are 32% lower and white tailed deer are 7% lower according to 2013 spring surveys, however, the prognosis for the next couple of years remains very positive. A good portion of the population is compromised of young, fit individuals with incredible reproductive ability.
In response to declining populations due to unprecedented severe weather and disease outbreaks since 2009, antlerless mule deer (doe) licenses have been reduced 90%. In 2008, when overall deer numbers were at all time highs roughly 66% of the harvest checked consisted of antlered (buck) mule deer and 33% of antlerless (doe) mule deer. Reduction in antlerless license numbers is reflected in the harvest with 88% of the mule deer harvest in 2013 consisting of buck deer and just 12% of the harvest represented by doe mule deer.
At the Glendive check station, FWP wildlife biologist Melissa Foster reported a hunter success rate lower than in recent years among deer hunters. “This year there is a tremendous amount of cover on the landscape. It was the end of November and there was still green grass and abundant water sources, which has kept deer well-dispersed on the landscape. Combine that with warm weather and there has been nothing significant to concentrate deer into areas with thermal cover and browse.”
Despite reduced harvest, hunters and biologists alike report the presence of good numbers of fawns and young bucks in observed herds, which bodes well for future production of deer herds across the region.