In 2012, Montana deer hunters bagged 88,000 animals, a good harvest given the epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak that wiped out thousands of whitetails. The Milk River from Malta to Nashua and in the Missouri River bottomlands below Fort Peck Dam were hit particularly hard by EHD outbreak, resulting in hunters seeing noticeably fewer deer than they did in 2011.
Mule deer numbers are also down, continuing a 10-year trend in Big Sky Country. Hard winters, drought, fire, and urbanization have been negatively affecting the population for years.
On the upside, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologists are reporting better fawn production and survival in many areas. Like other big game hunting, a nice cold front with plenty of snow should lead to some good hunting this season.
Northwest Montana hunters should find a lot of yearling and two-year old whitetail bucks this fall. And while they’re not as plentiful this fall, bucks five years old and older should still make up about 10-15 percent of the buck harvest. Whitetail numbers in the southwestern part of the state are stable.
While the overall mule deer population continues to be low, the 2013 spring survey in the Fisher River, which is one of the state’s better mule deer areas, showed good numbers and strong fawn recruitment. Mule deer populations north of the Yellowstone River are also on the upswing and approaching historical averages, reversing a decade-long trend.
There are no major deer hunting regulation changes this year. Non-resident hunters need to be aware that the Montana doesn’t allow any electronic devices attached to bows, or game cameras throughout hunting season.
The state has ample public land open to hunting, with some of the best found in the northwestern region. There is also plenty of land open to hunting that’s managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the East.