Mule deer population on the rebound in eastern Montana - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Mule deer population on the rebound in eastern Montana

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Eastern Montana's mule deer population hit a low a few years ago, but since then their numbers have rebounded and wildlife mangers hope to keep them that way.

The harsh winter five years ago decimated mule deer in eastern Montana, but today after mild winters, good reproduction and conservative management mule deer are rebounding and wildlife managers aim to keep those populations level.

"What we are attempting to do there is to keep it anywhere from 20% above long-term average to 30% below -- try to keep it in that range," said John Ensign with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Mule deer populations rise and fall naturally based on weather and habitat conditions, but deer population extremes -- from an overabundance to too few -- are a problem so managers try and stabilize those fluctuations with hunting.

"The ultimate goal here is to try from a deer management standpoint is to try and maintain some semblance of population stability," Ensign said.

Prior to the 1980's, wildlife managers issued licenses based on a type of reactive approach, but now they use a combination of science, surveys and models to project population changes when recommending hunting opportunities.

"And if you look through time, since we have done that, we have kind of stabilized we have leveled out those highs and lows," Ensign said.

This adaptive harvest management has eased landowner game damage complaints and provided for more consistent hunting opportunities.

"It is good from a population standpoint; good from a landowner standpoint, good from a hunters standpoint and those little communities out there too it provides them a little bit more economic stability," said Ensign.

This fall hunters in southeast Montana will find more mule deer opportunities when the big game rifle season opens on October 22.

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