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Region 1 cow elk B tags cut following spring survey

by The Western News
| July 9, 2024 7:00 AM

HELENA — Biologists conducting spring deer and elk surveys found some areas with improved herd growth and some areas with lower recruitment due to poor habitat conditions and disease.

During the spring season, state wildlife staff get a pulse on deer and elk numbers by conducting aerial spring trend surveys or green-up flights across the state. 

These flights occur in the same areas year after year so biologist can understand population trends. During the flights, staff count the total number of deer and elk they see and classify fawns/calves and adults to determine recruitment rates. 

Fawns/calves counted during spring surveys have survived their first winter and are recruited into the population. The fawn/calf count also provides a critical measure for population — the ratio of young to adults.

The data gathered from these surveys are then used to adjust any antlerless B licenses prior to the drawing.

Long-term datasets for deer and elk let Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks determine if populations are increasing, decreasing or remaining stable and adjust antlerless B licenses as needed.

For antlerless B licenses for both elk and deer, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approves a quota range for each hunting district, or in some cases a region. FWP adjusts the B license quota within that range as necessary to protect herd numbers.

Region 1

DEER

What we saw: In this area of the state, aerial surveys are difficult because the tree canopy is dense. We base adjustments to licenses on antlered deer harvest. In hunting district (HD) 124, white-tailed buck harvest has declined in recent years.

What we did: In response to declining white-tailed buck harvests, the state is reducing the number of white-tailed antlerless B licenses from 50 to 25 in HD 124.

Why we did it: Due to the reduced level of antlered buck harvest and desire to grow this herd, we are reducing the number of B licenses.

The results we are expecting: We expect increased doe survival, allowing the deer population to grow.

ELK 

What we saw: The total number of elk counted during the 2024 spring surveys was 330, resulting in a three-year average of 339 (2022, 2023, 2024).

What we did: Reduced the number of antlerless B licenses from 50 to 25.

Why we did it: This change will reduce harvest on female elk and help increase elk numbers toward the population goal identified in the 2023 Elk Plan, which is a three-year average count between 360 and 510.

The result we are expecting: By reducing female harvest we expect to increase cow elk survival.

Western Montana - Region 2

Spring monitoring surveys were normal and FWP is making no license quota adjustments for the 2024 hunting season.

Southwest Montana - Region 3

Deer

What we saw: Overall, mule deer populations exhibit regional variability, with some areas showing declines and poor recruitment due to harsh winter conditions, while others demonstrate robust populations and good fawn survival due to mild winters and favorable conditions. 

Observed deer were in good body condition, suggesting a healthy population outlook. There was one primary exception – an aerial survey of mule deer in HD 380 (Elkhorns) revealed a concerning decline in observed numbers. There was a 29 percent decrease from last year and 59 percent below the long-term spring average.

What we did: Proposed a reduction in the HD 380-02 mule deer B license from 100 to 75.

Why we did it: To stabilize and encourage population growth.

The results we are expecting: We expect increased recruitment rates and population growth to be measured in future surveys. 

Elk

What we saw: Overall, elk counts in most districts are at or above management objectives, with high calf to cow ratios signaling good reproductive success. However, bull to cow ratios are generally low, potentially due to survey conditions rather than actual population deficits. The overall health and growth of elk populations across the surveyed districts are positive, reflecting a well-managed environment that supports elk sustainability and growth. 

In HD 380, the total count observed was 1,387 elk, although it is believed that 200 to 300 elk were missed, putting the estimated population between 1,587 and 1,687, below the management goal of 1,700 to 2,300 elk. Notably, there was a significant movement of elk between HD 380 and HD 390, affecting counts. Calf ratios and yearling bull numbers were lower than average, likely due to the previous harsh winter. The bulls per 100 cows ratio met the management goal despite a decline from last year.

What we did: Reduced Elk B Licenses from 175 to 125 in HD 380-01, and reduced Elk B Licenses from 100 to 50. Increased 394-00 Elk B Licenses in HDs 318 and 335 from 300 to 400. 

Why we did it: To support population growth in HD 380 because of low calf recruitment. In HDs 318 and 335, the population is robust and can support the increased harvest opportunity. 

The results we are expecting: In HD 380, we are expecting the reduced harvest of cows to generate increased calf recruitment and population growth in future years to meet management objectives. In HDs 318 and 335, we are expecting the increased cow harvest to stabilize the growth of the population to within management objectives.