Landers: Bigger Antlers, Mixed Conditions in Montana

Rut Reporter Rich Landers, a native Montanan and life-long hunter, is the outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. He has written several books about the western outdoors and has hunted whitetails all his life. States covered: WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, CO.

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Some archery whitetail specialists are overcoming the crispy woods of the West to tag their bucks this week. Archers, including the one above at Keith Miller's Montana Whitetails, continue to find bucks in river bottoms. But it's safe to say the majority of hunters have either been focusing on elk or maybe waiting for more seasonable weather as they watch whitetail activity out the corners of their eyes.

But hunters like what they are seeing. Idaho and Montana hunters in several areas are reporting noticeably larger antler growth this year.

Eastern Washington temperatures hit record highs on Saturday, stifling activity before moving into a more seasonable pattern starting on Sunday.

"What a difference cooler weather makes," said Jerry Shively of Flatiron Outfitters in western Montana. "Four of the biggest bucks I have been watching, two of them in one bachelor group, showed up just in the last possible light left to see them. They were not to be found the next morning, though.

"The bachelor groups are beginning to spread out a bit more, with more space between individuals than there has been, but the same groups are still hanging together.

"Does and fawns can still be found feeding in almost every hour of the daylight. I am seeing more deer this year than I did last year this time & the bucks seem to be all wearing more bone on their head in all age classes. I expect this is due to the wet spring & summer we had & the excellent feeding conditions that were available."

The report is quite different in areas of Montana that have been hit hard by two consecutive harsh winters followed by a summer outbreak of EHD, a disease similar to blue tongue.

"The deer here at the Milk River are out of sorts," said Eric Albus, who's already reported a dearth of deer in northcentral Montana. "They appear nervous and restless when on the fields. Does will have four to six fawns following them, many fawns running around looking for a mother. It appears that the fawns were not hit near as hard as the does were (by EHD). Nature is certainly cruel. Survival of the fittest I guess."