Wildlife managers across the West are confronted with declining mule deer populations and Montana is no exception. With that struggle only getting more difficult the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission has proposed some changes to the general deer season in Regions 1, 2 and 3.
In Region 1 the proposal is structured as follows. Mule deer bucks will be able to be hunted on a general license for the first three weeks of the season and the last two weeks will go to a limited permit hunt with a quota of 15 tags. Since Montana’s general deer season falls largely within the mule deer rut, the hope is that by trimming two weeks off of the current five week season, more bucks will be available to breed and grow to maturity.
Region 2 already has permits in place but now the commission is seeking to shorten the season from five weeks to three.
In Region 3 the proposal is to move HDs 380 and 392 to limited permits.
There are other factors suppressing mule deer recruitment across their entire range in the West. Predation from overpopulated predators such as wolves, bears, mountain lions and coyotes is high on the list of concerns. Mule deer are often outcompeted by whitetail deer that are more resilient to hunting pressure and more adaptable. Mule deer also suffer widely from habitat loss and fragmentation and death by automobile thanks to human population growth.
All of the commission’s proposals have been advanced for a 30-day public comment period which will include public meetings on both deer and other hunting seasons. If you truly care about mule deer and the future of hunting, you need to attend and let your voice be heard.
I don’t know the answers to helping mule deer recruitment. I do applaud the state of Montana for beginning down the road of addressing what we can control and that is our take. We know mule deer are struggling across their range, perhaps it’s time we take a hard look at general seasons on mule deer? Perhaps it’s time for states to make ALL mule deer tags a draw/limited quota and move seasons out of the rut? Leave the general seasons in November for whitetails? I don’t have the answers but I do know that mule deer can’t speak for themselves so we as sportsmen must.