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2005 MT Hunting Outlook: Elk, Deer, Moose
October 9, 2005

Elk populations in Montana have offered some excellent hunting opportunities the past couple of years, yet harvests have been lackluster in some areas.

"Opportunity generally isn't the issue; good hunting weather and access are," said Gary Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife division management bureau chief. "A recent string of mild winters has resulted in lower elk harvests in some areas, even with the additional elk hunting permits and more liberal seasons available."

The general rifle season for elk is generally from Oct. 23 to Nov. 27. Check the 2005 regulations for details on season types and dates.

In FWP Region 1 in northwestern Montana near Kalispell, elk hunting opportunities look good. Populations are stable with a gradual annual increase in some areas. Calves per 100 cow ratios ranged from 20 in the Galton Mountains east of Eureka in hunting district 109, to 32 in the Lost Trail area of hunting district 103.

Deer populations in most of the state are thriving and numbers are recovering in northeastern Montana where a harsh winter two years ago knocked back populations.

"We expect to see some good deer hunting this season, and populations in general have been stable to increasing in most regions across the state," said Gary Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife management bureau chief.

The rifle season for deer is generally Oct. 23 to Nov. 27. Check the 2005 regulations for details on season types and dates.

FWP's winter and spring mule deer surveys generally showed good winter fawn survival, and good forage throughout much of the state. July and August's dry weather did reduce the overall quality of forage in many parts of the state, reducing to some degree the fat stores deer were able to build for going into winter.

"The deer are there, now it is up to the weather we get during the hunting season," Hammond said. "Cold weather and good snow will move deer into the more accessible, lower elevations and improve the harvest."

To monitor the effects of weather and other mule deer population dynamics, FWP annually conducts mule deer surveys across the state on 13 census areas and 67 trend areas. FWP biologists track fawn over-winter survival rates, the ratio of bucks to does and the ratio of fawns to adult animals, and size of the total population. These numbers are essential to deer management and regulation setting.

Hammond said that the well being of wildlife is tied directly to the quality and quantity of forage. In turn, the quality of the forage each year depends on precipitation, weather trends, and other factors such as over browsing.

"Generally speaking, we've had good conditions for mule deer and both mule and white-tailed deer are abundant in the state. We anticipate a good hunting season ahead in the vast majority of hunting districts," Hammond said.

In FWP Region 1, Kalispell and the surrounding northwestern area, mule deer populations are holding steady with good winter survival. Mule deer hunting in northwest Montana is generally limited to antlered bucks, with the exception of HD 103 where special antlerless permits are offered. The region wide average of 34 mule deer fawns per 100 adults observed this spring is considered a good ratio for northwestern Montana. Good mule deer populations can be found in the Whitefish, Salish, Purcell, Swan, and Cabinet mountain ranges.

Big game hunters hold Montana's vigorous moose population in high regard. This year 23,461 hunters applied to be in the drawing for a moose license-21,467 of them resident and 1,994 nonresident hunters. From among this pool of applicants, only 587 hunters succeed in getting a license-575 residents and 12 nonresidents. That is 2.5 percent chance of drawing a moose tag.

Based on past statistics, more than 80 percent of this year's moose hunters will be successful. Bull moose make up about 70-75 percent of the harvest and 25-30 percent are antlerless moose.

Montana produces a good moose. Since the 1930's when records were first kept, 145 Montana moose have surpassed the Boone & Crockett minimum score of 155. That score is a combination of the width and length of the antler palm and the number of points on the edge of the antlers.

Since 2000, 19 moose have been recorded at or above the minimum score of 155. The largest male moose on record in Montana weighed 1,117 pounds.

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