MONTANA

Deer Forecast 2004 -- WEST

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Deer hunters can expect a good season, even though some areas were buried in heavy early snow, which began around Christmas. The biggest impact was in the Bridger Mountain area in Region 3. According to Gary Hammond of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, fawns were hit hardest. In Region 6, heavy snows that fell in this part of north-central Montana affected some mule deer and whitetails, but losses weren't huge. Hammond says deer had been recovering from the declines of the early 1990s, but there may be some drops in recruitment where winter was most severe. Overall, Hammond is optimistic, even though the winter was harsh, with continued drought. Heavy rain in the spring helped turn things around, and he says the recent big fires in Montana will have a positive impact, spurring new plant growth in the region over the next 5 to 10 years.

Hammond says that Region 1 in the northwest suffered a serious decline following the winter of 1996-97, but whitetails are rebounding nicely and he expects some good bucks to be taken this fall. The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge should provide good mule deer hunting. Federal biologists have established a three-week season, starting October 24. Elsewhere in the state, the season generally runs five weeks.