Hunters in Montana, along with Fish, Wildlife & Parks, are concerned about declining mule deer populations in much of the state. In response to this concern, FWP is embarking on research efforts to look into the declines and engage hunters about their attitudes on mule deer management and hunting.
Mule deer numbers have typically been tracked over large areas using aerial surveys and declines can be attributed to several different things including winterkill, short-term habitat changes, like those that result from drought to potentially long-term habitat changes in other parts of the state. Predation and other factors may be at play as well.
“We’ve worked hard to be adaptive in our mule deer management over the past few decades,” said Brian Wakeling, FWP’s game management bureau chief. “However, some of the data we’re using to guide decisions needs to be updated, and it’s time to start testing our old assumptions and make sure our efforts are in line with the expectations and desire of hunters.”
Part of the effort FWP is undertaking has involved an expansive public opinion survey, which was sent out to 5,000 randomly selected resident hunters this past winter. The survey was nearly identical to one conducted in 2011. And the results were very similar as well. The survey results show continued support for current mule deer management in Montana, including season length, timing and the opportunity to hunt mule deer every year.
However, the survey also indicates that some hunters are looking for changes. For instance, when presented with the question of hunting bucks every year or hunting them once every several years, about 60 percent of hunters liked the ability to hunt mule deer bucks every year, which is generally the current framework in Montana. However, nearly 40 percent of hunters would choose to hunt mule deer bucks once ever several years if it meant having the opportunity to harvest a mature buck.
To help FWP better understand hunters and their attitudes about mule deer hunting, FWP held listening sessions in northwest and northeast Montana this spring. These listening sessions were conversations with the public about mule deer management, allowing FWP staff to answer questions and hear more feedback on the current state of mule deer hunting and management in Montana.
These listening sessions will rotate through FWP’s administrative regions every other year, so if you didn’t have the opportunity to attend one in your area this year, you should be able to next year.
Other efforts FWP is starting or will start in the coming years may include more radio collaring efforts to track numbers and mortality, habitat research, and other population modeling efforts.
“Overall, we’re looking to do additional mule deer research and monitoring across the state that will give us data we can use in communicating with the public and in setting regulations, and managing habitat and predation,” Wakeling said. “We know hunters around the state are concerned and the research we’re starting on will help us ensure our management decisions continue to be sound moving forward.”