Whitetail deer hunters in southwest Montana have the opportunity to extend their hunting season. For the second straight year, the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has authorized a late-season management hunt in the southwestern part of the state, which allows hunters to stay in the field chasing whitetails into the middle of February. The goal of the hunt is to reduce the density of the deer herd in the Ruby Valley to help control chronic wasting disease and prevent its spread to mule deer, elk, and moose populations, according to an MFWP press release.

CWD was first detected in the Ruby Valley whitetail herd in 2019, and after gathering data for a year, FWP authorized an extended management hunt in 2020, which was combined with increased CWD testing of harvested deer. In some areas of the Ruby, the prevalence of CWD in whitetail deer was a startling 45 percent. Without population reductions, that prevalence is expected to increase in the coming years. Ruby Valley’s whitetails share habitat with deer throughout the Jefferson, Big Hole, and Beaver valleys, according to FWP.

The management hunt began on December 11 and will run through February 15. Montana hunters who hold an unused 2021 general deer license, 003-00 whitetail deer B license, a whitetail deer B license from any other hunting district, or a 399-00 deer B license are eligible for the hunt. The 399-00 deer B license will also be available for purchase throughout the management hunt with a limit of five per hunter. All of the licenses are valid for either-sex whitetail harvest in the CWD management hunt area.

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The extended hunt is open on private and state-owned lands in nine hunting districts, and hunters must be aware of and follow regulations just like any other hunting season. Those who fill their tags during the management hunt are encouraged to submit a sample from their harvest to the FWP for free CWD testing. Results will be available to hunters within two weeks and will also provide valuable data to the state to guide future management decisions. CWD is a contagious neurological disease that is incurable and always fatal to deer, elk, and moose. Montana’s first CWD case was discovered in 2017. This September, Idaho, which borders Montana, confirmed its first cases of CWD. As of December 2021, the disease has been detected in 27 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.