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Conservation > Wildlife Management Deer

Mule deer and white-tailed deer are the most widely distributed and abundant big game mammals in Montana. Although they evolved to live and thrive in broadly different environments, the two species are remarkably adaptive. Both occur in a wide variety of habitats, under widely fluctuating environmental conditions, in the presence of numerous other wild mammals and domestic livestock, and in the wake of extensive human development and disturbance.

Managing deer across diverse habitats and conditions in Montana begins with understanding both their biology and behavior. It also requires effective methods for monitoring populations and habitats as well as for manipulating deer numbers or habitat factors to meet diverse social and economic objectives.

Montana has a long history of research to provide basic information about deer and their habitats and to develop and test new and improved methods and criteria for deer management.

Harvest Reports

For historical harvest reports and more information, visit here.

Hunting Guide

Deer are managed as a game animal in Montana with regulated hunting seasons.

Management Plan

Population & Distribution

Mule Deer

Population Status Charts


Population Status Maps


Distribution Maps


White-tailed Deer

Population Status Charts


Distribution Maps


Integrating statewide research and monitoring data for mule deer, including field research in the Fisher River, Whitefish Range, and Rocky Mountain Front

Mule deer population trends are of concern in Montana, where declines in abundance and hunter harvest have been documented in many areas throughout the state. Wildlife managers are tasked with the difficult mission of maintaining or recovering deer populations, dampening the magnitude of potential future declines, and stabilizing hunter opportunity. Therefore, improved quantitative understanding of mule deer dynamics is of particular relevance across Montana.

The methods by which FWP currently monitors and manages mule deer were established in 2001 with the adoption of the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) system (FWP 2001). This system currently includes three components: 1) population objectives, 2) monitoring program, 3) hunting regulation alternatives. FWP collects multiple sources of monitoring data to guide management decisions under the AHM system, and distinct from this current process are other vital rate data collected as part of research studies. With this project, we seek to leverage existing monitoring and research data together for an integrated quantitative assessment of mule deer dynamics for informing management. Additionally, we aim to collect novel field data in portions of northwest Montana and along the Rocky Mountain Front where biologists are faced with reduced mule deer numbers yet lack basic ecological and population information to manage with strong confidence.

Project Reports


Project Personnel
Tonya Chilton-Radandt

Area Wildlife Biologist, Libby

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Nick DeCesare

Reasearch Biologist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Brent Lonner

Area Wildlife Biologist, Fairfield

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Ethan Lula

Area Wildlife Biologist, Eureka

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Chad Bishop

Director, Wildlife Biology Program

University of Montana


Mike Mitchell

Unit Leader, Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

University of Montana


Teagan Hayes

MS Student

University of Montana


Collin Peterson

MS Student

University of Montana


Project Funders

This project is a collaboration between FWP and the University of Montana. Additional financial support for this project has been provided by the Allan Foundation and a matching Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grant to FWP.


Mule Deer Survival in the Bitterroot Valley

Mule deer populations have been on the decline recently throughout Montana and portions of the northwestern United States. Biologists throughout the region observed similar declines in mule deer populations during the late 1960s, the late 1970s, and again in the early and mid 1990s. Despite growing concern over these declines, the complex combination of factors that drive regional mule deer population fluctuations is not well understood. Potential causes include habitat loss or degradation, intraspecific competition, predation, disease, and/or interspecific competition (i.e. with elk and livestock).

In collaboration with MPG Ranch, FWP initiated a pilot study in the winter of 2015-2016 to estimate adult female mule deer survival and to identify the sources of mortality in the northern and southern Bitterroot Valley. In an effort to better understand factors that may be contributing to population declines, this project will evaluate adult female survival and spatial overlap with sympatric elk populations. In addition, this project will provide baseline information on mule deer movements, diet, health, and condition.

Project Reports


Project Personnel
Ben Jimenez

Wildlife Research Technician

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Craig Jourdonnais

MPG Ranch


Kelly Proffitt

Wildlife Research Biologist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Rebecca Mowry

Area Wildlife Biologist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Project Funders

Financial support for this project has been provided by:

  • Montana Outdoor Leadership Foundation
  • MPG Ranch
  • Mule Deer Foundation
  • Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Funding was also provided by revenues from the sale of Montana hunting and fishing licenses and matching Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grants to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.


Other Research


Human Dimension Surveys

Hunter Surveys


Additional Reports

How Antlers Grow

The science behind antler growth