Northwest Montana wildlife officials are anticipating improved hunting seasons beginning this fall based on strong survival rates for deer and elk fawns.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the fawn to adult ratio in Region 1 this year is 37 to 100, an increase of 13 fawns – or more than 50 percent – from last year. The increase, FWP states, is largely attributed to last winter’s mild weather.
The survival rate is still 10 fawns below 2005, but a FWP report states, “our regional herd growth trajectory has begun to show an increasing trend again.”
“If this trend continues, it would translate to more deer and elk available to hunters,” said Jim Williams, regional wildlife manager for FWP.
Following consecutive harsh winters, whitetail deer harvest numbers plummeted in Northwest Montana in 2008 and 2009. Predators, “herd density issues” and lack of autumn snow further contributed to low kill rates for hunters, FWP officials said. Last year, whitetail harvests were near record lows across western Montana. Region 1 mule deer numbers were also historically low.
In response, FWP officials in Missoula-area Region 2 canceled over-the-counter antlerless tags. In Region 1, which comprises northwest Montana, deer B tags were drastically scaled back.
This hunting season and next, hunters in Region 1 will only be permitted to take whitetail bucks when rifle season begins on Saturday, Oct. 23, except for a two-day youth hunt on Oct. 21-22. FWP officials made the decision in February after receiving extensive public input.
Warden Captain Lee Anderson reminds hunters to review hunting regulations for the district in which they plan to hunt.
FWP officials have said deer populations are cyclical. In the mid-1990s, biologists said bad winters exacerbated an already declining whitetail population. Up to that point, deer numbers had been falling after reaching record highs in the late 1980s. The population had dipped in the 1960s and 1970s.
Over a four-week period of rifle season in 1996, check stations reported 756 whitetail bucks. The following year, after a harsh winter, only 478 were reported in the region, a nearly 40 percent drop. Including both bucks and does, total whitetail harvest numbers fell from 1,527 to 723 that year, more than a 50 percent decrease.
After several more slow years, check stations began reporting high numbers of whitetail bucks in 2002, followed by another decline over the past few years.
Mule deer harvest numbers remained fairly steady from 1996 until last year, with the exception of a three-year spike from 2003-2005. Elk harvest totals, according to FWP, began rising in the early 2000s and have remained stable over the past four years.
According to FWP Wildlife Biologist Bruce Sterling in Thompson Falls, there were 270 bull elk harvested last fall in hunting district 121, which comprises the Lower Clark Fork River and surrounding mountains near Thompson Falls.
FWP officials said the harvest – in a physically challenging and densely forested area – was the second highest ever for a Montana elk-hunting district. Most of the harvest occurred on public lands.
For more information on regulations, contact FWP regional headquarters in Kalispell at (406) 752-5501 or log on to http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/regulations.
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