Montana deer on the rebound


Mule deer buck in field
Photo credit: Murray Feist

After years of declining deer numbers across Montana, there is finally some good news for hunters. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reporting encouraging statistics on the state deer population for the upcoming season.

Recent disease outbreaks have taken a toll on whitetailed deer numbers in parts of eastern central and west-central Montana. Yet, favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014 have stabilized populations in other regions and enhanced recruitment levels across the state. As a result, deer hunters in Montana can expect healthier populations and a mix of hunting opportunities when the general season begins on October 25.

Here’s a look at what deer hunters can expect in Montana:

Region 1: Northwestern Montana

  • In the majority of the region, fawn recruitment for whitetailed deer looks strong
  • Hunters can expect an increase in whitetailed bucks and bucks in the 3-year-old age bracket
  • Though mule deer populations remain low, experts believe they are beginning a slow recovery

Region 2: Western Montana

  • Whitetailed deer numbers are stable to increasing across the region
  • Mule deer numbers remain low
  • Hunting for mule deer bucks is by permit only in most districts
  • FWP has instituted restricted hunting opportunities for antlerless deer to help boost population increases on both species

Region 3: Southwestern Montana

  • Mule deer numbers are increasing in districts 311, 312, 360, 362, and in the Gallatin and Madison areas
  • Mule deer numbers are also slightly up throughout Park County
  • Townshend and Dillion area muley numbers are down
  • Whitetailed deer numbers are fair to good

Region 4: Central Montana

  • Mule deer numbers have stabilized, but are still below long-term averages
  • Despite recent disease outbreaks, whitetailed deer numbers continue to increase

Region 5: South-central Montana

  • Mule deer numbers have stabilized or slightly increase since last year, but still remain 30 to 40% below long-term averages
  • Mule deer harvest is expected to be similar to last year
  • Whitetailed numbers remain low at lower elevations and in areas north of the Yellowstone River
  • Whitetailed numbers are stronger closer to the mountains
  • Whitetailed buck harvest is expected to be similar to last year, yet antlerless harvest will be less due to substantial reductions in B tag numbers

Region 6: Northeastern Montana

  • Harsh winters have had a lasting impact on deer, but both mule deer and whitetailed deer numbers are starting to rebound in most areas

Region 7: Southeastern Montana

  • Though winter survival last year was strong and fawn recruitment has increased, mule deer numbers are still 8% below long-term averages
  • Hunters are likely to have more opportunity to harvest a muley in the southern portion of the region
  • Whitetailed deer populations are variable throughout the region depending on where disease impacted the animals
  • Whitetailed deer populations are 9% below long-term averages
  • Favorable forage and precipitation levels in 2014 are helping whitetailed deer recover more rapidly


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