In the northwest corner of Montana, the last two winters have brought harsh conditions and deep snowfall across much to the region, creating challenging conditions for recruitment of big game populations in some areas.
The snowpack in many areas was above-average late into winter, making for difficult hunting conditions a year ago and low survival rates in some areas for elk calves and deer fawns.
For elk, calf recruitment appears lower than previous years. In general, cow-to-calf ratios were observed to be lower this year in Hunting Districts 121, 140 and 150. This marks the second year of reduced calf recruitment in these districts.
Northwest Montana is unique white-tailed deer country. While most of the state is dominated by mule deer, that’s not the case up here. White-tailed deer can be found from river bottoms and agriculture land to evergreen forests and high country. However, the last two winters have hurt fawn recruitment. The long, harsh winter and heavy snowpack across much of the region have resulted in some fawn and adult deer mortalities. Adult survival, even in severe winters, is generally good but based on the recruitment observed this year, the white-tailed deer population is likely down somewhat in some areas of northwest Montana. White-tailed deer numbers have been most impacted in the North Fork of the Flathead River in recent years and this year recruitment in the upper Swan was below average. The harvest is expected to be similar or decline slightly this fall. The overall harvest trend has increased since the 1970s.
Mule deer counts in the region were hampered this spring by maintenance issues and availability of the survey helicopter. FWP staff struggled to identify age classes of deer observed but only 17 fawns per 100 adults were observed during a flight of the Fisher River, a common area for mule deer, but this likely underestimates the level of recruitment in the area. Mule deer harvest has been on a decline in recent years. FWP has launched a multi-year research study of the population and its nutrition, habitat use and mortality rates in an attempt to better understand factors affecting mule deer populations in Northwestern Montana.