FWP Citizens Committee discusses decline of mule deer in Eastern Montana

The FWP director came to Billings to talk about the decline of mule deer in eastern Montana and the reduced number of licenses being issued.

The plan is to find a long-term solution to control this deer population.

Alexis Turner, who goes into the 8thth Class, told of a successful deer hunt with her father.

“My heart was racing,” Turner said. “I was so nervous and excited. I didn't know which way was up and which way was down. We found a spot in the trees to set ourselves up. After one shot from 290 yards, I took down that deer.”

FWP cites drought starting in 2020, a harsh winter in 2023, disease and habitat as reasons for the decline.

“It was kind of a triple whammy from Mother Nature that decimated populations across eastern Montana,” said Brett Dorak, wildlife director for FWP Region 7 in Miles City.

Dorak says the number of Class B licenses for antlerless deer in Region 7 has dropped 91% in recent years.

“That's normal,” Dorak said. “Mule deer populations in eastern Montana in particular are cyclical. It's usually a cycle of about 10 years.”

And because of this development and the passion for hunting of people like Alexis, FWP has assembled a Citizens Advisory Council to address big-eared deer management.

“It's part of our job here at Fish Wildlife and Parks to watch how things are developing,” said Dustin Temple, FWP director. “See what can be done and manage these resources so the public can enjoy them.”

Temple expects that with the committee's input, work on a long-term plan can begin in the fall.

“We want the public to be involved,” Temple said. “We want them to be excited about mule deer. We want them to tell us what they want. So when we write the plan for the future, we make sure we meet those expectations.”

And Temple says Turner's experience is a good reason for proper wildlife management.

“This picture and this young lady’s story perfectly illustrates how important our work is,” Temple said.

“Hunting means a lot to me,” Turner said. “It's an experience that connects me with my father.”

Anna Harden

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