Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposed to bring back antlerless mule deer licenses in several areas of the state a year after eliminating the same licenses because of low populations.
The proposal calls for antlerless licenses in two Region 3 districts, either sex licenses in all of Region 6 except HD 652 and an adaptive management strategy to bring the antlerless licenses back in Region 7. The Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the tentative plan Thursday, which will now go out for public comment.
The proposed changes come after concerns last hunting season that the switch to buck-only seasons led to an overharvest of bucks and signs that mule deer have rebounded in several areas, said Wildlife Management Bureau Chief John Vore.
FWP proposes 75 antlerless tags in HD 300 and 200 in HD 331.
The agency also proposes an adaptive strategy for antlerless tags in Region 7 hunting districts. The number of tags would vary depending on the outcome of spring 2015 deer surveys, and if a hunting district is below average, then FWP would issue no antlerless licenses. The number of licenses issued would be on a sliding scale based on the percentage of mule deer above average for those hunting districts that qualify.
The commissioners praised the Region 7 approach, with some question as to why Region 6 did not propose a similar strategy.
Switching to an either sex regulation in Region 6 would allow hunters to harvest does, which the department feels will take some pressure off the bucks, said area wildlife manager Mark Sullivan.
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“We felt that going to either sex was a more conservative season. Most hunters will still shoot a buck with an A tag, but some will shoot a doe and get a little more harvest in those areas,” he said.
Mule deer populations are around 10 percent below average in the region as a whole, but some areas are doing well, Sullivan said.
Mule deer are doing so well in the Bearpaws that if the department doesn’t increase harvest, ranchers can expect game damage next year, with some possibly even this year, said Commissioner Richard Stuker of Chinook.
“I’ll be paying really close attention to the comments we get on a broad scale approach (all Region 6) because my gut’s telling me a more surgical (hunting district) approach is the way to go,” he said.
Mary Ellen Schnur of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association voiced her support for district regulations, saying in part that she was pleased the department was looking at district management rather than regional management.
Steve Miller of the Mule Deer Foundation took a more skeptical view of the plan for Region 6, questioning whether taking does would hamper recovering herds. He also voiced his support for district specific regulations over the region wide proposal.