MILES CITY—Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologists are busy completing post hunting season deer surveys across the region. These surveys are conducted annually to assess deer population trends after the hunting season. To date, half of the surveys have been completed and preliminary indicators point towards a good to excellent fawn crop this past summer for both mule deer and white tailed deer. “Production” is the number of fawns observed per doe and any ratio over 40 fawns per 100 does is indicative of increasing populations. Mule deer survey ratios so far range from 56 - 100 fawns per 100 does. The while tailed ratios are mirroring those of the mule deer.
This is good news for deer populations that have been beset in recent years by tough environmental conditions. In particular, mule deer populations across eastern Montana took a solid hit during the winters of 2009-10 and again in 2010-11. During which, eastern Montana measured over 110” of snow in parts with averages being around 50-60”; amounts not seen since the late 1970’s. Mule deer populations suffered high mortality and by 2012 populations had declined 55% from population peaks noted in 2006-2008. In response to these population declines, FWP reduced mule deer doe licenses by 90% from roughly 11,500 issued in 2009 to 1,200 issued in 2012 and 2013.
After coming through a mild winter, deer surveys in the spring of 2013 indicated mule deer populations were beginning to rebound with good recruitment of 53 fawns for every 100 adult deer entering into the breeding population. Mule deer populations climbed from 60% of the long term average in 2011 to 68% of the long term average in 2013. Populations are far from recovered but improved production and recruitment bode well for future population increases.
Antelope populations suffered a similar fate to mule deer across the region. As a result of disease episodes and back to back tough winters in 2009-10 and 2010-11 antelope populations suffered high mortality and declined 69% from population peaks noted in the mid 2000’s.
In response to population declines either sex and doe fawn licenses were reduced by 75% and 99% respectively, with 3,000 either-sex and 100 doe -fawn licenses available for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Annual antelope surveys conducted this past summer indicate that antelope populations, as with mule deer, are showing signs of recovery across the region. In the summer of 2013 antelope populations were noted to have increased from 42% of long term averages noted in 2012 to 50% in 2013. Populations in the southeast corner of the region appear to be responding better than populations in the northwest corner, but all in all even though populations are far from recovery, antelope populations are showing positive signs of rebounding.
As with deer, the fate of antelope populations rests on the severity of the winter we are currently experiencing. Both deer and antelope entered the winter in good condition and the above normal precipitation in the 2013 growing season resulted in ample browse for them to feed on. If Mother Nature cooperates a bit populations will continue to grow.