Montana Outlook: EHD Undetermined, but Winter Losses Minimal

Montana's whitetails occupy much of the state, especially its river valleys and western mountains and foothills. Herd strength can vary dramatically between areas based on winterkill, drought, disease, and, to a lesser degree, predation. The effects of predators are exacerbated, however, by population losses. Harsh winters and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) are the biggest limiting factors to whitetail populations in this, one of the best and the biggest western whitetail states.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released a statement this summer about reports of localized EHD outbreaks, but the scope of those outbreaks and losses is yet undetermined. MFWP Wildlife Sections Coordinator Quentin Kujala told me he's hopeful losses won't be heavy, but pointed out drought and EHD are regular companions. He also points out that no major winter losses were reported.

The Shields River Valley north of Livingston Montana is home to one of the West's most famous whitetail deer outfitters, Montana Whitetails.

Montana archers opened their season last Saturday, and Montana Whitetail's Keith Miller says he expects his clients to take some nice bucks, as always. He and his staff have been carefully observing game behavior via binoculars and cameras (that's one of his photos above) to avoid walking in on hunting areas to retrieve cameras. In this broad river valley that affords many distant viewing opportunities, Miller says trail cameras aren't needed to provide chances for his clients to shoot bucks, many of Pope and Young class. He offered this report about current conditions:

"We have witnessed about half the whitetail bucks out of velvet already, which is typical for this region of the state. With a dry summer this year we see a lot of whitetails down low on the irrigated alfalfa fields like last year. Some of the small bucks out of velvet have been sparring in the alfalfa fields a bit this past week playing around with each other - nothing more than tickling the antlers together then going back to feeding.

"The weather has been hot lately here in the Southwestern portion of the state, and the majority of deer movement is restricted to the last hour of daylight. We glassed a good numbers of mature bucks earlier in the summer that we haven't seen for a while, so we know they're hanging back in the security of the cool riverbottom until after dark. Generally once we get through the first week in September and we start to see some cooler temperatures, the deer movement picks up progressively through mid to late September.

"We will be using some of our haybale blinds again this year to get our clients literally right on top of some of these mature bucks as they feed on these large alfalfa fields. Clients love hunting from them, and their effectiveness on getting within bow range of mature bucks is awesome."