2012 ANTELOPE HUNTING OUTLOOK

Antelope hunters in Montana will have to work a bit harder to find good antelope hunting this fall, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials say.

While fawn production and winter survival have rebounded after a series of extreme winters, most populations are only now climbing back to average levels across the state.

“Antelope hunting will be a challenge,” said Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ wildlife sections coordinator in Helena.  “Populations, especially in eastern and north central Montana, are still in recovery mode.”

Montana’s antelope archery season will close Oct. 5 and the general rifle season for antelope will run Oct. 6-Nov. 11.

For more information on antelope hunting in Montana, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, click “Hunting” then click Hunting Guide.

Here’s a regional rundown on what antelope hunters can expect this season.

Region 2—Western Montana

  • Pronghorn distribution is centered in the Deer Lodge area and few licenses are being issued to conserve this island population. Fawn survival has been poor in recent years and doe-fawn licenses were reduced.

Region 3—Southwestern Montana

  • There was generally good production of antelope over the past year. Overall, the population is stable, and hunters should see antelope numbers about the same as, or a little above, those of last year. In some areas–like the Madison Valley–it looks as if numbers are down slightly and that’s reflected in fewer tags allotted this year.

Region 4—Central Montana

  • Antelope numbers are mostly down. After a couple of harsh winters and an EHD outbreak–a fatal virus spread by biting midges–antelope have been slow to rebound. For hunters this means FWP issued fewer doe-fawn tags over the past couple of years.

Regions 5 — South Central Montana

  • Antelope continue to appear in record low numbers, though biologists are seeing some encouraging signs of recovery in the eastern part of the region, where more fawn antelope were counted than in the past few years. Reproduction has been a concern for three years following an outbreak of EHD–a fatal virus spread by biting midges–that decimated much of the herd in 2008. In most areas, antelope numbers remain at historic lows–37 percent of the historic average–with fawn numbers at just 53 percent of normal. Those trends are reflected in fewer tags issued this year.

Region 6—Northeastern Montana

  • All hunting districts will again see low license numbers because of lingering impacts from the severe winter of 2010-11. Overall, populations are far lower than long-term averages, and fawn production also remains low in most areas. Decreased harvest quotas are expected to persist for at least several more years as pronghorn populations recover.

Region 7—Southeastern Montana

  • The early story here for autumn is drought conditions combined with an extreme fire season on the heels of a rather mild and dry winter. Populations are stable, yet still below long term averages. Fawn production—due in part to the favorable winter of 2011-12—was fair this year at about 47 fawns per 100 does. Permits were reduced due to low numbers of antelope.

2012 ELK HUNTING OUTLOOK

There are elk in Montana’s hills and if the big sky drops some snow hunters could be in for a banner season in many areas.

“Most hunters are going to find elk populations in good physical shape and will benefit from liberal hunting opportunities,” said Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ wildlife sections coordinator in Helena. “If the weather cooperates, and if hunters do their homework and line up access early where it’s needed, we’d expect very good harvest numbers by season’s end in late November.”

Montana’s general, five-week long, elk hunting season opens Oct. 20.

Kujala noted that cold and snowy conditions should lead to elk hunting success, while mild weather usually spells lower elk harvests, despite additional elk-hunting permits and more liberal seasons.  “We’re all hoping the weather tips to hunters’ favor this fall,” Kujala said.

Predation on elk by wolves has contributed to some depressed elk populations in parts of western and southwestern Montana. Also, Montana’s forest fires may have changed local elk distributions and access opportunities.  Hunters need to understand that some landowners will be busy rebuilding fences and other structures lost to fire this fall. A call ahead of time, and especially an offer to help, would be long appreciated.

For more information on elk hunting in Montana, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, click “Hunting” then click Hunting Guide.

Here’s a regional rundown on what elk hunters can expect this season.

Region 1—Northwestern Montana

  • Elk populations remain stable. Spring surveys revealed a regional average of 25 calves per 100 cows. More than 3,470 elk were counted during spring helicopter surveys. Hot spots for elk include the lower Clark Fork region and the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.

Region 2—Western Montana

  • Elk numbers are generally above the long-term average but the distribution and trend of elk populations raises concerns for the future. Calf production and survival is low in several districts along the border with Idaho and adjoining the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas, where opportunities to hunt antlerless elk are sharply reduced.
    To allow bull numbers to rebound, a special permit is required to hunt bull elk in Hunting Districts 250 and 270 (Upper Bitterroot). Elk numbers generally remain high on private lands located east of Missoula, but calf survival was unusually low through last winter.

Region 3—Southwestern Montana

  • Overall, the milder winter of 2011-2012 led to good calf recruitment, and depending on weather conditions, the harvest could certainly see a notable increase from last year. A hunter’s best bet will be in the southwestern part of the region—and in the Helena area—where high numbers are being seen. The same applies to the Shields Valley where hunters should find a healthy population of elk. The upper Gallatin and the Paradise Valley elk numbers are down, while the number of elk in the Gravelly Range remains about the same as last year. The Pioneers and the Elkhorns are at or above average.  A word of warning for next year, however: persistent drought conditions could play a factor in both the 2012 harvest and next year’s calf production.

Region 4—Central Montana

  • Elk populations are solid. The biggest challenge for hunters, whether along the Rocky Mountain Front, central Montana’s island mountain ranges or in the Missouri River Breaks, continues to be finding access.

Regions 5 — South Central Montana

  • Elk populations are healthy and growing. The numbers, however, are not a harbinger of hunter success. In areas where hunter access is good, elk numbers are low. In most areas where public hunter access is limited, elk numbers are well above FWP’s elk management objectives.

Region 6—Northeastern Montana

  • Biologists say elk numbers are at or above management objectives in most hunting districts. All elk hunting in the Bears Paw Mountains and the Missouri River Breaks is by special permit, which are awarded in the annual drawing. Elk in these areas are most often found in core-habitat areas a mile or more from active roads and other human activity. Hunters should note that elk densities are very low in the general-season hunting area north of U.S. Highway 2.

Region 7—Southeastern Montana

  • While not typically a hot spot destination, outside of Missouri Breaks, elk here are primarily found on private land. While elk populations are above management objectives in all hunting districts, public hunting access is limited.

2012 DEER HUNTING OUTLOOK

Deer hunters in Montana will find a mix of hunting opportunities across the state when the general season opens Oct. 20.

“Conditions have been mixed the past several years and deer in many areas of the state are still rebounding from the tough winter of 2010,” said Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ wildlife sections coordinator in Helena. “The good news is that we’re seeing better fawn survival and good fawn production in many areas, but some are still struggling with low numbers and production.”

Overall, the better mule deer and white-tailed deer populations are currently in parts of Region 4 and some areas of Regions 2, 3 and 5.That’s due in part to central and western Montana dodging the recent winter losses experienced by deer in eastern Montana.

“Mule deer and white-tailed deer will be found in local concentrations based upon habitat,” Kujala said. “One generalization is that white-tailed deer are most often associated with the forested habitats of northwestern Montana and in riparian areas,” Kujala said.  “In addition to scouting for good habitat and access to private lands, a spate of cold and snowy weather often leads to good hunting.”

Montana’s forest fires have plagued much of Montana this season. Hunters need to understand that some landowners will be busy rebuilding fences and other structures lost to fire this fall. A call ahead of time, and especially an offer to help, would be long appreciated.

For more information on Montana’s five-week long general deer hunting season, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, click “Hunting” then click Hunting Guide.

Here’s a regional rundown on what deer hunters can expect this season.

Region 1—Northwestern Montana

  • Biologists counted more than 5,580 white-tailed deer this spring and observed a fawn adult ratio of 44, which indicates a stable to increasing regional herd. Near Kalispell and the surrounding area, white-tailed deer herds continue to grow as a result of the recent mild winter. White-tailed deer are plentiful in the Swan Valley and the Lower Clark Fork Valley.   Hunting access is good but involves stalking game in heavy coniferous habitats. Mule deer populations remain stable with a recruitment rate of 28 fawns per 100 adults classified via helicopter surveys this spring.  Hot spots for mule deer include the Cabinet and West Cabinet mountains, the high country of the Lower Clark Fork, the Whitefish Range and the subalpine areas of the Mission and Swan mountain ranges. Mule deer hunters typically are more successful at the higher altitudes.

Region 2—Western Montana

  • White-tailed and mule deer are common but numbers generally are below historic averages. FWP has restricted hunting opportunities for antlerless deer this year to limit any further declines and speed population increases. Hunting for whitetail bucks should be average overall. Hunting for mule deer bucks is by permit-only in several hunting districts.

Region 3—Southwestern Montana

  • Mule deer are down in most places across the region except for a slight uptick in the southern hunting districts.
  • White-tailed deer populations–found mostly in river bottoms–are stable due to the mild winter. Fortunately, southwestern Montana didn’t see whitetail die-offs from Epizootic hemorrhagic disease as did other populations in central and eastern Montana.

Region 4—Central Montana

  • The news for deer is mixed. White-tailed deer populations are solid. That’s not the case for most mule deer populations. “With whitetail we have good numbers,” said Graham Taylor, FWP’s wildlife manager in Great Falls. “Mule deer numbers are mostly down.”

Regions 5 — South Central Montana

  • Mule deer populations in the breaks and prairies north of the Yellowstone River are on the upswing, reversing a decade-long trend. Biologists noted good numbers of fawns this year, which they believe is an indicator of recovery in some of those populations. In the mountainous areas, particularly south of the Yellowstone River, a decline in mule deer numbers continues.
  • White-tailed deer living in the prairie environments north of U.S. Highway 12 have been in slow decline for a number of years because of hard hunting pressure, poor fawn winter survival and last year’s bout of EHD–a fatal disease spread by biting midges. In the mountains south of the Yellowstone River, however, populations are near average and stable.

Region 6—Northeastern Montana

  • Effects on mule deer from the winter of 2010-11 are still being seen with regional numbers 30 percent below average. Buck ratios are similarly below average with fewer older-age-class bucks due to a high winter mortality in 2010-11. There has been little recruitment the past two years, but strong fawn production was expected this year. Doe licenses in most areas have again been significantly reduced.
  • White-tailed deer numbers in the Milk River Valley east of Malta to Nashua and in the Missouri River bottomlands below Fort Peck Dam were heavily impacted; both by the harsh winter of 2010-11 and an EHD outbreak in 2011. In those areas, numbers remain well below the long-term average. In the Malta to Havre area, numbers are slightly below average this year. A small EHD outbreak, however, was confirmed this summer in the Chinook area. In the northeastern corner, numbers are slightly below average in prairie habitats and down 50 percent in the Missouri River bottoms. Whitetail doe licenses were also significantly reduced this year. Hunters should also be prepared to see increased mineral development activity.

Region 7—Southeastern Montana

  • Mule deer numbers are still more than 40 percent below the long term average due to the severe winter of 2010-11 that resulted in significant winter-kill of both adults and fawns. Overwinter survival last year was high, and fawn recruitment this spring—up to 47 fawns per 100 adults—increased relative to the previous year. That good news, however, was dampened by reduced fawning rates due to nutritional stress in does after the extreme winter of 2010-11. Drought conditions this summer are impacting deer nutrition as well, but lower-than-average mule deer numbers means that prime habitat is available for a greater portion of the population. Data gathered last hunting season at hunter check stations indicates that the mule deer population is comprised primarily of young, fit individuals with high reproductive potential. Thus, even though mule deer numbers are down this year, if Mother Nature cooperates, the population should soon begin a rapid recovery.
  • A widespread EHD outbreak in the fall of 2011 reduced populations of white-tailed deer, but populations remain high in localized areas where disease did not occur. White-tailed deer can recover relatively rapidly from declines, and this process has already begun, as fawn recruitment rates this spring doubled over last year. The reduction in white-tailed deer numbers is not all bad. Wildlife biologists note that whitetail numbers prior to the EHD outbreak were too high and fewer deer on the landscape will allow habitat to recover along with deer numbers.  Hunters who do their homework by scouting and visiting with private landowners should have success locating good areas to hunt whitetails.

Logo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

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