Early signs for good hunting


Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


October 19, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson


Don Knapp's hunting party was the first to arrive at the Game Range check station after the special deer-hunting season opened on Saturday in Hunting District (HD) 282.

They were complying with instructions they received in the mail with their B-licenses in August. Don had killed a doe white-tailed deer. Now he was required to extract one of the front teeth from the deer and bring it to the check station, where he would find a form to fill out and an envelope attached for the tooth.

I met them as they were climbing into their truck to leave the check station, at about 10:00 on Saturday morning. I began the conversation with my standard, "How's it going?"

Don got a deer," one of his partners replied. "So, he cut out a tooth and we're turning it in."

Instinctively, I reached into my tattered bag of tooth extraction banter. I chuckled, "So, would you recommend him as a dentist?"

"Why, yes, I would," Don's partner answered sincerely.

I was a little surprised, since most people can't help thinking of themselves in the dentist's chair while watching me or any other amateur take a tooth from a dead animal with knife and pliers.

"Oh, sure, you'd recommend him to me!" I countered, trying to emphasize what I meant by my comment.

"No, Don really is a dentist," his partner explained. "I thought you probably know him."

After they left, I couldn't help inspecting his work. Sure enough, the extracted tooth was a work of art, its root intact and unbroken, with all the extraneous tissue neatly removed. Based on this experience, I strongly recommend Don Knapp for any of your dental health needs.

Don's deer was a milestone event for the Game Range check station in more ways than one. Don's was the five-hundredth white-tailed deer brought to the check station since Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks established it in 1988.

That's an average annual harvest of almost 42 whitetails per year in HD 282 in barely more than 12 hunting seasons. The highest annual harvest recorded at the check station in that time period was 55 in 1994, when deer numbers were near peak levels in western Montana. The low of 25 was recorded inyou guessed it1997, following the severe winter of 1996-97.

Early indications are that this season will be a good one. It didn't take long for me to account for the second kill of the day, when I bumped into a hunter at his camper trailer along Woodworth Road. He had also killed a whitetail doe, and had his pick among 13 other deer.

As I continued with my opening day chores of posting the boundaries of HD 282 (to indicate that deer and elk hunting is by permit only, now that the general archery season is closed), I encountered an inordinate number of deer bounding across the roads, including plenty of healthy looking fawns.

From a deer manager's standpoint, this would have been the year to reinstate the traditional either-sex regulation for white-tailed deer in the first 8 days of the general big game season in Region 2. (This year's opening day for general big-game hunting is Sunday, October 22.) However, the public was not entirely convinced when FWP proposed this last winter, and neither was the FWP Commission. So, we will have one more season of bucks-only hunting for white-tailed deer across most of the Clearwater and Blackfoot Valleys. Hopefully, we will be allowed to match the observed increase in the whitetail population with an appropriate harvest of does in the general season next year.

During the early, 8-day deer season in HD 282 (October 14-21), hunters with B-licenses awarded in the annual statewide drawing are allowed to kill a mule deer or white-tailed deer buck, doe or fawn with their general A-license, and may kill another antlerless mule deer or white-tailed deer with the B-license. Only an average of about 16 mule deer are killed each year in HD 282, primarily because most mule deer that winter on the Game Range are still a long way from the winter range in October. (If any of you hunt in HD's 281 or 292, remember you need a permit this year to hunt mule deer bucks in these districts!)

Antlerless deer account for almost 63% of the white-tailed deer killed in HD 282. This includes 40 buck fawns in the past 12 years, which are commonly known as button bucks and are legally classified as "antlerless." Slightly more female fawns have been killed in the same time period (45), while the bulk of the antlerless harvest is comprised of adult females (229). Among those adults, nearly 53% are yearlings (1.5 years) and two-year-olds, indicating that we have a productive deer population.

Just to see if you're still awake, let me contrast this with an interesting tidbit on black bears in the Swan Valley, contributed by FWP researcher Rick Mace. Rick and his crew captured 31 bears this summer. In his experience, he would normally expect to catch mostly young bearsbecause they are usually plentiful and dumb. But, he captured no yearlings nor two-year-olds, and only one three-year-old bear in his sample. This corresponds with the berry crop failure of 1998, and suggests the degree to which black bear productivity was interrupted by that event.

By the time I finished posting boundaries late Saturday afternoon, I began to see a similarity between my activities and those of my dog when he, too, marks his territory periodically. That's when I knew it was time to go home.

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