By Robert Lucke
Big game numbers so far this hunting season in and around Havre and the Hi-Line are as large or larger than last year's numbers, with the exception of some whitetail deer. Al Rosgaard, wildlife biologist with the Havre office of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, has the numbers.
First, those whitetail numbers. Many whitetail were struck with a gnat virus in August.
"Hunters are finding some whitetail deer this year," Rosgaard said. "Some areas are probably not as good as other areas, but they are out there. We have checked just about the same number of whitetail bucks through this last weekend as last year. But as far as the antlerless portion of whitetail deer go, we are down about 40 percent. Those would be does and fawns."
"That is due to a combination of things," Rosgaard said. "There are less of them out there for the hunters to find and the information has gotten out that they have died, so there are not as many hunters out looking for whitetail does. Part of it is the department didn't issue that second doe tag. Hunters can buy one anterless and use it anywhere in Region 6, but that second one is not valid in this area."
There are still plenty of whitetails around in some areas of north-central Montana.
"One amazing thing about this whole whitetail thing is there are some areas that were not affected by the disease, for example, in the Bear Paw Mountains or in the Turner area," Rosgaard said. "It was mostly along the Milk River Valley from Havre to Malta that was hit hard."
Mule deer harvested have increased from this time last year.
"On the other hand, we have seen a 40 percent increase in the number of mule deer we have checked compared to last year," Rosgaard said. "And that is mostly because there were mule deer anterless B licenses available."
However, mule deer did not fare so well in this year of drought.
"The number of bucks that hunters are bringing through this year is also higher," Rosgaard added. "One sidelight to that for mule deer is that antler growth this year is not as good and that can probably be attributed to the drought. We have been seeing lots of small three- and four-point deer. It appears that horn growth was affected this year. What deer eat goes first mainly to maintain their bodies and later to get horn growth. You know it takes a lot of energy to grow those horns out of their heads each year, and this year the nutrition just was not there."
The antelope season, which has just closed, looks up from last year as well.
"Those numbers are up almost 40 percent from last year," Rosgaard said. "The reason for that is a combination of high population levels and increased numbers of doe and fawn levels. We did see some 15- to 16-inch horns on bucks, but the drought affected antelope horn growth as well."
There were lots of antelope harvested out of hunting areas 600 and 690, according to Rosgaard.
Elk numbers have not been tabulated so far this season.
"I think that hunters are doing pretty well with elk in the Missouri River Breaks as well as in the Bear Paw Mountain hunting districts," Rosgaard said. "We will have better information by the end of the season, but I think it is better than last year. We have hired an elk harvest coordinator for the Bear Paws to get the hunters to the elk, especially the cows, in an effort to keep the population from increasing. That has helped the harvest this year."
In the bighorn sheep harvest, Rosgaard has no numbers yet, but he thinks that maybe eight out of the 10 bighorn sheep permits have been filled already.
Block management hunting is working well this year, Rosgaard thinks. His department is keeping track of the total numbers of big game animals harvested on and off block management areas. Block management areas are special posted acres of private land that landowners are paid to allow hunters on during the big game season.
Rosgaard says thank you.
"From my standpoint, we appreciate the cooperation of the sportsmen when they stop at our check stations. That helps us in the management of all big game animals," Rosgaard said.