2017 Northern Rocky Mountain Deer Forecast
September 18, 2017
The northern Rocky Mountains boast such abundance of wild public lands that some people choose to live here just because of that. It's a big draw. It's the outdoor lifestyle. Deer hunting is a big part of that life.
Deer hunters in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have a lot to chose from, with millions of acres in national forests, BLM and national monument lands. Let's take closer look at what hunters could expect this fall.
The deer population in Montana is stable to increasing, depending on where hunters are at in this big state full of some of the most varied public lands in the West.
Mule deer predominate in much of the state, with whitetail concentrations high in the northwest.
Deer herds recovered well from the lows in 2014, said John Vore, biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"Our mule deer population is doing real well," he noted. "They recovered from the lows in 2014. They are going gangbusters, particularly in region 7 in eastern Montana."
The northwestern part of Montana is an exception to the trend upward. Whitetails there went through a tough winter there last year.
"Northwest Montana did take a bit of a hit last winter," said Vore. "They got an awful lot of snow up there. Our staff has expressed some concern about the area. The rest of the state is doing great."
Montana sportsmen study the regulations carefully because the regs are extensive and varied. "We fine-tune the management not only to the resource and habitat, but also for what sportsmen want," explained Vore.
With lots of deer, some areas are managed for older more mature bucks and other areas more for venison in the freezer.
"With lots of different opportunity, then the cost of that is lots of regulations," noted Vore.
This allows the wildlife department to set aside a few areas that allow bucks to grow older before they are harvested. It also allows increased harvest of does and younger animals if there is too much feeding on agricultural crops. Some areas will then have a high harvest and high hunter success rate.
"Most hunters in the state are just looking for the opporunity to harvest a buck," said Vore. "And it doesn't have to be a big buck."
One of the better areas this year will be the southeast region 7, which along with the rest of eastern Montana, has very good deer numbers going into the fall.
"Interestingly, in our southeastern portion of the state in region 7 we have a liberal opportunity for hunters there," said Vore. "There are lots of buck licenses. With the kind of liberal management we have been doing we have a lot of hunters out there who utilize that."
One new limiting factor on Montana deer herds are elk. Elk and deer compete for some foods and the elk population has increased threefold and fourfold in some areas over the past 30 years, said Vore.
For deer, the best place to begin is the Montana Hunt Planner on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website. It is detailed, including information on some public lands to avoid because they are surrounded by private land and are too difficult to get to. Montana is the top Western state in number of acres of public land that are unreachable because of land patterns that isolate tracts, with nearly 1.96 million acres falling into this category.
But, there is much more public land that can be gained access to with no problems. The state enjoys vast acreages of BLM land and national forests. Teddy Roosevelt was very active in creating lots of national forests that provide good deer hunting and all kinds of outdoor recreation here. More recently, new national monuments in the West also have good public deer hunting. One of the best is Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument along the Missouri River.
For both national monuments and forests, detailed maps show roads and where the boundaries between public and private land are. The national forests include Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Bitterroot, Custer, Flathead, Gallatin, Helena, Kaniksu, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, and Lolo. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department wildlife management areas are intensely managed for wildlife habitat. They are scattered around the state.