MT, USA — State wildlife officials want to loosen mule deer hunting regulations this fall in four hunting districts near here, after wildfires consumed 20 to 25 percent of the animals winter range. Wed like to reduce the overall mule deer population in those areas to bring them in line with the carrying capacity of the winter range, said Ray Mule (pronounced myoo-LAY), regional wildlife manager for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings.
The FWP Commission tentatively has approved a proposal authorizing the sale of either-sex mule deer tags rather than buck-only tags in hunting districts 520, 560, 575 and 590. The first three districts cover the Beartooth Front roughly from the West Fork of the Boulder River east to Highway 310 and south of Interstate 90. They were burned over the summer by the Derby Mountain and Saunders fires. Hunting district 590 covers the area south of the Musselshell River to the Crow Indian Reservation, and from Highway 3 east to Route 310 between Melstone and Custer and Highway 47 between Custer and Hardin.The Pine Ridge and Bundy Railroad fires were the largest in this district. The commission will make a final decision on the proposal at its Feb. 13meeting.
Public comment will be accepted until then. Before the fires, mule deer populations along the Beartooth Front were at a low because of drought and a lack of forage. Restrictive, buck-only hunting regulations have been in place for the past two years to try to boost deer numbers. But the loss of winter forage especially sagebrush that may take decades to regenerate requires liberal hunting regulations to release pressure on private land, where the deer might go, and to protect the remaining habitat from overuse, Mule said.
The number of special doe-only licenses wont be determined until July, following spring surveys. But Mule said the number of doe-only tags may be increased in the four districts, depending on what happens with the deer populations over the winter. He added that elk in the districts seemed less affected by the fires, likely because they are more mobile and less dependent on sagebrush for winter browse. Theyre able to move into some unburned areas, he said. They have a few more options.