Cold, snow killing central Montana deer
By BRUCE AUCHLY
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Recent snowstorms and subzero temperatures in central Montana have hit mule deer hard - deer that are already reeling from several years of drought.
In addition to complaints from ranchers of deer and elk feeding in haystacks meant for cattle, wildlife biologists and game wardens are seeing the effects of five years of drought on some animals, particularly mule deer east of Great Falls.
"We have some extremely skinny deer," says Tom Stivers, FWP wildlife biologist in Lewistown.
Stivers has already seen winter-killed deer. That usually doesn't happen until late February or March when the reserves on a healthy deer can give out from too much winter.
"Deer are in dire shape," Stivers says, "particularly the fawns and yearlings."
"We're having quite a bit of deer game damage between Hobson and Utica and in the Ackley Lake area," says Adam Grove, Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist. Elk game damage is occurring further east in the Buffalo and Straw area.
Grove also reported seeing mule deer from the Little Belts with little body fat, an indication of the toll drought has taken.
Christmas week brought reports of 9-foot snowdrifts in Hobson. That was followed by nearly a week of temperatures that dropped to minus 20 and colder.
Cold and snow and wildlife are part of the central Montana winter landscape. Wildlife can fare badly when they are in poor shape going into a winter that is anywhere near average or worse in snowfall and temperatures. And the current winter has started out near average.
"I anticipate there will be a huge mortality in deer numbers in central Montana," Stivers says, "due to the drought and poor condition these deer are in and the severity of the winter."
Deep snow limits wildlife mobility, especially deer. As a result they tend to bunch up and may converge on hay bales, leading to game damage complaints.
When a rancher or farmer calls to report game damage, FWP by law must respond in 48 hours provided the landowner allowed reasonable public access during the hunting season.
FWP will make materials available to haze animals. These could include cracker shells and scare guns, which are short-term solutions.
FWP will give landowners, who allow public access, materials to build permanent fences around haystacks. But that's a spring-summer job.
Game damage hunts are an option, too. They are designed to redistribute and kill animals. Specific rules exist for selecting hunters and conducting a damage hunt. But game damage hunts take time to set up, advertise and select hunters. If other reasonable means have been exhausted, a kill permit may be issued to the landowner.
Whatever the solution, deer are headed into winter suffering the effects of summer.
"We've already lost deer," Stivers says. "And if we get another shot of hard winter, we're going to lose more."
I hear some say not to even put in for Montana this year. What are you hearing?
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a brave and scarce man, hated and scorned. When the cause succeeds, however, the timid join him... for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." -Mark Twain
I think there is some truth to what you are asking however it would only apply if you are planning a hunt in that specific area that has been hit by heavey snows and cold weather.
I wil try and keep on top of the situations and keep things updated. I really doubt if the game department would tell anyone because they are after the all mighty dollar. On the other hand what they will proably do is cut the number of tags in a specific area.
Jesse & Buck59,
I have a buddy who has good friends in the Hindale area. He hunted there in '03 and took a nice buck. We were going to apply as a group this year, but the weather has got us thinking...........
The folks have had two huge piles of hay dumped on their property by Fish & Game, but it's mostly antelope that's coming to feed.
I'll post as I find out more.
A man's footprints in life are only as deep as the ones that follow in his steps.