Montana deer numbers are down.
“Our ten-year population estimate average for mule deer was 286,000 deer, and our 2011 herd estimate was 203,000. Whitetail ten-year average was 220,000, while our 2011 estimate was 202,000,” says Ron Aasheim, spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks,
Deer populations, both mulies and whitetail, have dropped most noticeably in Eastern Montana. “Our 2010-11 winter was tough, and EHD took a real toll on whitetail in the northeast and parts of central Montana,” Aasheim explains. “This year, fires in Eastern Montana and dry conditions are causing additional concerns.”
Last fall’s outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed many deer, especially whitetails along the North Dakota border and back along the Milk River corridor.
“We’re estimating 80 to 90 percent of the [whitetail] deer died from EHD along the Milk River, from Malta to Glasgow,” says Pat Gunderson, FWP regional supervisor based in Glasgow. “Probably closer to the 90 percent.”
Even if all goes right, it will take two or three years, with little to no hunting, for these populations to rebound.
On the plus side, the most recent winter was very mild, so deer came out of it in good condition. Also, 2011 was unusually wet over much of Montana, so forage was strong, all of last year and into 2012.
“Our forage looked great right up to the early spring,” says Aasheim. With dry conditions, though, vegetation began suffering as the summer progressed. By mid-summer, forage was looking spotty in central and eastern Montana, but still good West of the Continental Divide. Hunters targeting big bucks in Montana have usually looked to the Bitterroot and parts of the Rocky Mountain Front, which are permit areas. Those bucks are usually moving around, hot and heavy in the peak rut mode, from mid-November and right to the end of the month.
The Western Regional Report**
_A very dry summer in the Southwest shriveled up forage and made it hard for does to successfully drop and raise fawns. However, new deer browse is starting to appear in the burned-over areas from 2011’s wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico.
Things are trending up for deer in the Northern Rockies, after horrendous winters starting in 2007-2008. A mild and generally snowless 2011-2012 winter helped Idaho mule deer and whitetail numbers begin to rebound–though it might take another year or two for that growth to be reflected in the harvest. Wyoming suffered from a decade-long drought, but the last two years have seen a return of the rains, and deer habitat is turning around. Montana’s deer have been hit hard by harsh winters and a major EHD outbreak last year, which took out thousands of trophy whitetails, especially along the Milk River corridor._
Top Trophy Zones**
AZ: Units 3C, 12A, 13A, 13B, and 24A.
CA: Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou, and Trinity counties.
CO: Units 25 and 26.
ID: Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties.
MT: Fergus, Madison, Missoula, and Ravalli counties.
NM: Units 32 and 33 for mule deer; units 21, 22, 23, 24, and 27 for Coues.
OR: Clackamas, Grant, and Jackson counties.
WA: Chelan, Ferry, Lewis, Spokane, and Stevens counties.
WY: Bighorn, Crook, Lincoln, and Sheridan counties.