Owning a ranch in eastern Montana and having grown up there 50 years ago I have a fair amount of personal history to draw on. A year ago I spoke with a biologist in the Region 7 offices in Miles City and told him the numbers I had observed in covering thousands of miles in eastern Montana all fall were way, way down.
I found it odd that his lack of credence in my ability to observe mule deer in eastern Montana was rather short-sighted but one thing for sure, if there's deer there I will see them.
Fast forward to what I was trying to explain to him without any success. Another sad day for mule deer in Montana."The Montana deer population survey numbers for 2022 were published late last year and show that mule deer numbers are down, way down! There are a lot of factors to blame, starting with the largest culprit that has been proven by research in many Western states and that is drought. Research shows deer (does) that go into winter in poor shape, with minimal body fat in dry years, have much lower fawn health and birth rates in the spring of the next year. 2020-2022 were very dry years in the eastern half of the state and forage in the fall of 2021 was especially poor when I hunted there. Trophy quality also seemed to be hurt by the drought. In 2022 population counts showed 58,000 mule deer in Region 7 which is down from 114,000 in 2020; that’s a 52% decrease!
Disease is also another factor and sure doesn’t help the situation; EHD, Blue Tongue, and CWD. All of these diseases have affected the eastern half of the state the last few years. CWD has been the one in the spotlight recently but there’s no proof that CWD has wiped out entire herds of deer in the West unless you consider how it has impacted state’s like Montana’s deer management policies.
Overhunting could also be a factor. Montana gained a lot of residents the last two years and if you don’t know, Montana is an opportunity state and is not managed for trophies. It’s managed for opportunity, hence the many general tag areas. Basically Montana is a, “If it’s brown, it’s down” kind of state and all of Regions 6 and 7 are either-sex, either species except for one district on the general tag. In addition there are thousands of antlerless tags available for each species in these regions as well."
I say Montana needs more hunters. They need more "come home to hunt" hunters, more youth seasons, more late season muzzleloader seasons, more military hunters, and more resident hunters and while they are at it, why not extend the cow elk season into April from February 15 so hunters can eat veal from a fetus? I say all of that sarcastically but you know the resource is suffering and low fur prices aren't doing much to cut back the never-ending problem of coyotes on fawns.
I say shut the mule deer season down on November 12th.