Being a dad of four amazing girls is a blessing that goes without saying. But, it also forces you to “Sacrifice” certain things that I love to do. This years “sacrifice”? The archery season in my home state of Montana. With my daughter making the high school volleyball team and the other endless activities that these four amazing girls love doing, I had to put the archery season on the back burner and instead, look forward to the rifle season.
The big question for me, and I’m sure most of you other Montana Mule Deer hunters, is where do I go this year. If you recall from a past post, last year I put in for area 510 (Pryor Mountains) for Mule Deer. This year, I opted to just purchase an over-the-counter deer tag. This opens up a lot of other areas and options that I did not have last year. But, I’m not always good with options. Perfect example, walking into a restaurant and opening the book…I mean the menu, only to see hundreds of options. Put three things on the menu and I would be fine with that. So, although last season provided me with the ease of few options, it did feel as though I missed out on opportunities. Whether I did or didn’t isn’t a big deal, but it will be fun to have a wide open menu of Mule Deer location options this year.
I’m confident that many of you have your favorite spot. I’m sure many of you have the family traditional spot that you have been hunting since Lewis & Clark first showed it to your great, great, great grandpa. This isn’t for you, this is for those of us that are in search of the 100’s of options menu. If there is a state that offers 100’s if not 1000’s of options, it’s the great state of Montana.
First, Montana has a historic reputation for its abundant wildlife. At the top of this list is Mule Deer. Montana also has the historic reputation of not consistently producing B&C type bucks. The state is currently holding about 215,000 – 220,000 Mule Deer. This is down compared to the 10-year average of about 286,000. This is primarily due to the harsh winter of 2010-2011 where the deer herd took a huge hit. Along with the harsh winters, Montana witnessed a summer of fires in 2012 that scorched tens of thousands of prime Mule Deer habitat. But, with the 2011-2012 & 2012-1013 winters being mild, the population is making big strides in coming back, and the quality of feed, even in the areas that experienced the fires, has been fantastic so far this year. The last two springs have averaged a robust fawn crop of 45 fawns per 100 does. This does mean an abundance of young bucks are covering the state, but with some patients you can pass up all of these young ones and find you a mature buck. Montana has a lot of mature bucks, maybe not a lot of trophy bucks, but mature bucks all the same. Now, where to go hunting and where to find a big bruiser.
In the past you could always count on Region 3 as being the go-to region in Montana. Although I have nothing against region three, it would not be my first choice anymore. That #1 position has now been taken over by region 7. Western Montana has not seen the devastating winters as Eastern Montana has recently, but it has suffered from fires, decreased food quality, increased predator numbers and increased hunting pressure. Although the deer numbers in region 3 are still close to goal, you just wont see the quality or the number of mature bucks that the Southern part of the region is famous for. Famous areas such as 300, 302, 325, and 328 are all down with numbers and mature bucks. Some big brutes will be taken and are each year, but they will require a lot more work and patience then in the past. One area that has seen an upswing in both numbers and quality is areas 313, 317, and 316. But be ready for a hard, high altitude hunt that will require everything you have. A couple other areas that still hold great animals (but not like recent past) is area 312 and 393. Most all of these units are draw only units, so that is where your real challenge will be. Region 1 has kept a fairly stable Mule Deer population. I would recommend hunting the Cabinet and West Cabinet Mountains. The Whitefish Range still holds solid bucks and would be one of my few top picks. Region 2 gives me no goose bumps at all. I would look to other regions if I were you.
Region 4 is a very large region. In reality, there are two different worlds in this region. The Western and Eastern parts of this region are still suffering with record low Mule Deer numbers. The Central part is doing very well with around 54 fawns per 100 does. Look in and around Judith Basin and Meagher Counties. There will be plenty of opportunities of seeing more deer and some solid mature bucks as well. Region 5 is very similar to region 4, in that it contains really two different worlds. Simply draw a line along the Yellowstone River. Everything North, specifically in and around the breaks area, is seeing huge fawn to doe ratio increase. The Mule Deer numbers have shot up the last two years. Lots of deer and a lot of mature bucks are waiting for you. What’s not waiting for you is a lot of public land. But there are some fantastic BMA properties that will provide you with a memorable hunt, that is if you get on the phone and secure some dates on those properties. Region 6 is another traditional hot spot for Mule Deer in Montana. The winter of 2010-2011 destroyed this heard and took out a lot of the older class bucks. The Spring of 2011 and 2012 yielded record fawn crops in the region. There is an upswing in the area as far as numbers are concerned, but it will take another 2-3 years before we see any true increase in both age and quantity. Region 7 is my top pick out of all the regions here in Montana. Although, there were no other regions hit harder by the 2010-2011 winter, and the heard numbers are still below goal, but the fawn crop in the past two Springs have been incredible. This region also holds your best chances of a monster of a buck. The bad thing about region 7 is how little of public land there is. The little bit of public land that is available in this region is hunted hard. But, you will still have a great chance of finding a descent buck within these areas. For the true trophy of a life time, I would recommend the South East corner of the state. Areas that hug the Powder River holds the best animals. From Terry all the way down to the Wyoming border. North of Terry is hunted very hard, as is the forest land in that area. Zone 705 is also hunted hard due to available public land and BMA properties. Although this is a long drive, even for local people, it will be worth your time and effort to venture in the badlands of South East Montana for the 2013 Mule Deer Season.
Good luck this year! I will have posts in the coming weeks for Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. Until then, keep your gun pointed in a safe direction and your boots dirty.