By Robert Lucke
Antelope licenses will increase from 600 to 800 either-sex tags this fall and does will go from 100 to 200 in hunting area 600, according to Al Rosgaard, Havre Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist. In hunting area 690, antelope tags for this fall headed up from 750 to 900 either-sex and doe tags jumped from 100 to 500 in that area.
All those increases happened because in fly-overs in those areas, it became apparent that antelope numbers are much higher than were found in an earlier survey.
First, Rosgaard explained area 600, which is north of Chinook.
"We fly a fairly large area and we fly transects," Rosgaard said. "Our east boundary is a road going north of Zurich, which turns into a trail but continues all the way to the Canadian border. We fly up that road, looking west and counting all the antelope we can see and breaking them down into bucks, does, and fawns. Then we fly from there a mile west to a section line and down toward Highway 2, looking both ways out of the plane. We do that over the entire area until we get to the west boundary of that trend area, which is Battle Creek north of Chinook."
The fly-over survey is looking for more than just numbers.
"We want to get the fawn production and a ratio of bucks to does. The pilot of the plane and I do the counting," Rosgaard said.
"We fly out typically when the sun comes out. At that time of year as the days are warm, animals bed down by 10:30 a.m. After that they are hard to see. We fly four to five hours each morning."
The survey results were amazing this year. Rosgaard cautioned that these were the results of a trend area, not the entire district.
"In area 600, there are 4,900 antelope, which is the highest number we have had since the mid 1980s. It was a really good fawn production year. There were in that area 65 fawns per 100 does," he said. "Remember that yearling does do not have fawns, so there was very good production and survival."
Buck numbers were also high 72 bucks to 100 does.
"Biologically, that is really high," Rosgaard said. "They don't need that many to continue the species. Hunters should have a wide variety of bucks to choose from in that area."
Meanwhile, in area 690, the trend area is smaller but the hunting area much larger. The eastern boundary of the 690 trend area is Zurich south for 15 miles. The western boundary of that trend area runs just about south of Lohman.
"In that area, we counted a total of 866 antelope," Rosgaard said. "Fawn production was 107 fawns per 100 does. That is very high. In addition, we had 63 bucks per 100 does. Again, that is very high. Based on the trend area, we estimate a total of 4,400 antelope in hunting area 690, and that estimate is our highest count since we have been counting antelope this way."
The reason for this amazing trend can be summed up in two words mild winters.
"One thing is we have had a series of at least two mild winters in a row. That has allowed for a high survival rate," Rosgaard said. "The other side is a little more difficult to explain in a drought year, but in spite of the dry summer, we are carrying over lots of antelope because of the mild winter."
A harsh winter could change those numbers once again.
"Because we are in a drought year, the antelope are not on a high nutritional plane, so if we go into a tough winter, that is really going to be tough on them," he said.
Folk applying for antelope tags had to have their applications sent to Helena by June 1. Successful applicants should be hearing from Montana FWP around the middle of August, Rosgaard said.
Need more information about 2001 antelope numbers? Contact Havre FWP at 265-6177.