Montana –-(Ammoland.com)- Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists have completed their 2016 winter and spring aerial surveys of deer populations across Region 6 in northeastern Montana. The surveys indicate a continuing increase in numbers for mule deer, and mostly stable populations of whitetail deer across the region.
For mule deer, 11 trend areas in Region 6 are typically examined each year from the air. The winter “post-season survey” was completed in January, and the “spring survey” was conducted in late March and April. While total deer counts tend to be variable, FWP Biologist Ryan Williamson of Outlook said the 2016 surveys indicate mule deer are above average.
“Mule deer trends continue to show a steady recovery across the region in the last few years,” Williamson said.
The post-hunting-season surveys showed the region-wide mule deer population at 49 percent above average, and 17 percent above the 2015 surveys. The spring surveys showed region-wide populations at 47 percent above average, and 29 percent above the 2015 survey.
While regional numbers indicate above average mule deer levels overall, differences are seen across the region and in isolated areas as well. According to Williamson, mule deer trend area numbers in the eastern half of the region (Glasgow area and east) are at or above the average. The western half of the region (Malta and Havre area), however, is more variable across the trend areas, ranging from below average to above average. This same trend was seen in the deer fawn-to-adult ratios that are also conducted during the spring survey.
“Fawn to adult ratio is an indicator of over-winter survival as well as new recruitment into the population,” Williamson said. “The 2016 survey showed 58 fawns to 100 adults across the region, which is slightly above the average of 53 fawns to 100 adults. The eastern half of Region 6 saw the higher number of fawns to adults, with 65 fawns to 100 adults, while the western half was at 49 fawns to 100 adults, indicating a slower-growing mule deer population.”
“Data collected during mule deer surveys are only one factor in deer management recommendations,” Williamson further explained. “The prior year’s harvest, weather and habitat factors, as well as additional input gathered from landowners, hunters, the general public and other agencies are all considered by the Fish and Wildlife Commission for season and quota setting decisions.”
Another pressing factor in managing deer populations is the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) that is moving further south in Alberta and Saskatchewan toward the Montana border. In 2014, FWP initiated a mule deer telemetry study north of Chinook in Hunting District (HD) 600 to gather data on the movement of deer between the U.S. and Canada.
“It is just a matter of when and where CWD will be detected in Montana,” says Williamson. “Higher deer numbers tend to influence the spread of the disease, so we take that into consideration when developing hunting season regulations.”
For 2016, all Region 6 hunting districts will be managed under the standard regulation for mule deer, which includes either-sex for a general deer license (A-tag), as well as additional doe/B-licenses.
“The exception to this is hunting district 652 which is a limited permit, mule deer buck-only hunting district,” Williamson said. “Hunting Districts 620, 630, 631, 632, 640, 650, 651, 670, 680 and 690 had a conservative number of mule deer antlerless/B-licenses available this year, with the license application deadline on June 1.”
In regards to whitetails, Williamson said surveys have been completed in six areas across Region 6. Due to more uniform habitat, the whitetail surveys tend to look at deer density, as opposed to total numbers, for trends. The 2016 year’s survey show whitetail deer density is at an average of 6.7 deer per square mile across the trend areas, which is approximately 39 percent below the long-term average of 11 deer per square mile. The 2015 survey showed whitetails at 47 percent below average.
“White-tailed deer densities continue to recover in the eastern part of the region, but are still 25 percent below average, while the western portion of the region is 58 percent below the average,” Williamson said.
Prior to 2010, whitetail densities were as high as 40 – 50 deer per square mile in some areas. “This was an unsustainable level that was causing problems for landowners and also degrading habitat conditions,” Williamson said. “EHD outbreaks and other factors in the following years reduced the whitetail population across Region 6 considerably.
With whitetail numbers increasing across Region 6, and in accordance with Fish and Wildlife Commission rule setting, a single-region antlerless whitetail B-licenses will be available for over the counter purchase starting August 8, 2016. The licenses will be limited to one per hunter.