Montana mule deer rant

brocksw

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So, is the sentiment around here such that hunting the rut would only be ok with primitive equipment or under a special permit type tag? Or that hunting the mule deer rut under any circumstance is not "sporting"?
 

PablitoPescador

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I'm not a regular poster but I tend to lurk these types of threads because the topic of Montana mule deer really fascinates me. I'll admit that I've been more of the Food is Memories mindset for the past few seasons. Hopefully optimistic that if I hunt hard enough, that nice deer exist and I should be able to find one and kill one. Keep in mind that my standards aren't super high. A 140-160" buck still gets me pretty excited since I only have a handful under my belt. That mindset has shifted for me the past couple years and I thought I'd share my experience. In 2021 I hunted both private and public. All good habitat that should hold good numbers of deer. I passed up a few 120-130" type bucks and a heavy 8 point whitey that still kinda haunts me. I ended up eating my tag. There were okay numbers of deer where I hunted, but no shooter bucks to my standards. This season I drew a permit that has produced good mature 140-160" type bucks for me in the past with pretty minimal effort, all on public land. I also drew one of those eastern Montana elk permits in a different unit, which was the main priority. I hunted that elk permit about 15 days in what should be excellent mule deer country. In those 15 days I probably saw less than 10 deer and I hunted all over the unit.

In early November I went out for a one day hunt in the deer unit. I went to a new area that should be full of mule deer. Really excellent habitat but unfortunately all the grass was grazed down to virtually nothing. I hiked about 3 miles and didn't see scat, tracks, NOTHING. I finally glassed up a herd with a decent buck in it on the border of some private. It was a really windy day in early November and they ended up heading for some public land timber to bed when the wind hit. I still hunted through the timber until I finally found them. Ended up notching my tag on a 140" buck. Thinking that maybe I was missing something and just hadn't explored the unit enough, I went out with my father-in-law yesterday in the same unit, who had reports of seeing virtually zero deer on public land in all the places he hunted. I figured there had to be deer somewhere and I knew he was feeling the pressure to put some meat in the freezer since he hadn't punched a tag all season. We hiked in a couple miles and hunted a spot where I've always seen at least 20-30 deer. Sure enough we found a herd of about 6 deer and he killed a fork horn buck. Sadly the deer looked really sick. I know rut bucks are usually really lean but this thing was SCRAWNY. Just skin and bones. They took a sample for CWD at the game station and claimed the buck was 5.5 years old. Hard for me to believe that a buck with the antlers of a 2.5 year old was that old, but his teeth were fairly worn down. It really confirmed what I've read on these threads about the peril of MT mulies being a combo of drought, overgrazing, CWD and unfortunately overhunting.

Reflecting on these past two seasons, I'm feeling more than ever the need to rehaul our management system. This year, I was satisfied with the animal I took, but not the experience. I'm a hunter that enjoys observing the species as much as I do filling a tag. I didn't even really get to observe mule deer this year. To me, a mule deer hunt should allow you to see dozens of animals a day and be #selective with the buck you decide to kill. Something is way off with Montana mule deer. My experience wasn't even an opportunity hunt this year. It was more of a "scrounge up whatever kind of dumb luck you can get and hope something jumps the fence" type of experience.

I want to get involved in putting pressure on our game agency to do something different. What can I do?
 

TOGIE

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So, is the sentiment around here such that hunting the rut would only be ok with primitive equipment or under a special permit type tag? Or that hunting the mule deer rut under any circumstance is not "sporting"?

notwithstanding colorado's current situation of shifted seasons - i very much like that many of our rifle mule deer hunts in the rut fall under limited entry with around 5% of the tags that were available during the pre rut hunts. i think that's a great way to do it.

not to mention, all of our mule deer hunts are technically limited entry.

otc/general tag rut mule deer hutning should probably be bow only. they'd probably still kill too many tho.
 

EYJONAS!

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I would be ok with either primitive equipment or special permit or both. But not ok with what is continually happening.
I do also accept this as well.

Id be in favor of shutting it off completely for the rut. There's plenty of ways to create opportunity to satisfy the people that will bitch about it.

I bet in 3 or 4 years of major changes including no rut hunting they wouldn't be bitching.
 

ShootsManyBullets

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I do also accept this as well.

Id be in favor of shutting it off completely for the rut. There's plenty of ways to create opportunity to satisfy the people that will bitch about it.

I bet in 3 or 4 years of major changes including no rut hunting they wouldn't be bitching.
Someone will be bitching. That's what people do.
 

EYJONAS!

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Someone will be bitching. That's what people do.
There's no doubt it'll upset people, some will never accept it.

Lots of people also thought opening bulls up to general tags in areas where they shouldn't have been was a great idea. Now...... a lot of people are upset about that too.

Pick your poison I guess. Can one sacrifice their "right" to hunt mule deer every year in November with a rifle. With a long term outlook of trying to better the populations in MT?! I dunno...... I sure could, but I'm not everyone.
 

ShootsManyBullets

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There's no doubt it'll upset people, some will never accept it.

Lots of people also thought opening bulls up to general tags in areas where they shouldn't have been was a great idea. Now...... a lot of people are upset about that too.

Pick your poison I guess. Can one sacrifice their "right" to hunt mule deer every year in November with a rifle. With a long term outlook of trying to better the populations in MT?! I dunno...... I could but I'm not everyone.
Being an apex predator I realized I needed to self regulate to save the herd so I quit buying MT tags until conditions improve. I've also saved a small fortune in doing so.
 

MTLabrador

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If I was king of Montana:

Every unit that’s already general would stay general. Archery the month of September, rifle October 1-20. Whitetails in November. No does on public land, B tags for private land would be the only way to take a doe mule deer.
 

sclancy27

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Honest question for folks who’ve been at it a while: Were things really much better 20-25 years ago? Or, have they just gotten that much worse from whatever the baseline was then?

I found this description in the back of an old Eastman book from the late 1990’s and it sounds like it could’ve been written yesterday.
My perspective over the last 24 yrs in MT...

Mule deer hunting in the plains hasn't changed much, outside of hunting pressure. We have killed more big (170"+) bucks in the last 10 years than we did the first 14 yrs. That could be skill related also, so confounding variables. We also kill a lot of 4.5 yr old and older bucks. Sometimes we end up shooting some 3.5 yrs. They are pretty easy to age up to 4.5 yrs old between a combo of teeth (young deer have different teeth configurations), size (body, skull and pedicle sizes are all indicative of age) and body configuration. Much harder to get them exact after 4.5 yr old, basically I am good enough at tooth wear to say "mature, prime age" and "old, past prime". We send teeth in for lab ages to confirm. We have shot bucks as old as 9.5 yrs old.

The biggest things I have noticed, as far as mule deer herds is this:

1. Mule deer herds in the mountain ranges we hunt have decreased enormously. This coincided with huge increases in elk herds. I do not think these are coincidental.

2. The lack of disturbance on the landscape hurts mule deer more than any other ungulate. Mule deer thrive on early succession plants. Without disturbance (fire, logging, etc) those plants are in low abundance (at least in MT. Western WY, Idaho, UT have some of these plants in high abundance without disturbance, so maybe there is soil/climatic differences).
 

sclancy27

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notwithstanding colorado's current situation of shifted seasons - i very much like that many of our rifle mule deer hunts in the rut fall under limited entry with around 5% of the tags that were available during the pre rut hunts. i think that's a great way to do it.

not to mention, all of our mule deer hunts are technically limited entry.

otc/general tag rut mule deer hutning should probably be bow only. they'd probably still kill too many tho.
I think bow would work well for rut. Deer are crazy hard (at least given my AZ experiences) to kill in the rut, they just move so damn much. Factor that in with more mature bucks running larger doe groups and it becomes really difficult. It's alot easier to sit on a point with a 360 degree view and dust anything decent that comes inside of 400 yds with a rifle.
 

brocksw

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I think bow would work well for rut. Deer are crazy hard (at least given my AZ experiences) to kill in the rut, they just move so damn much. Factor that in with more mature bucks running larger doe groups and it becomes really difficult. It's alot easier to sit on a point with a 360 degree view and dust anything decent that comes inside of 400 yds with a rifle.
So every MT resident gets a general deer tag? General season runs for the month of October (give or take)? Add in a limited entry rifle tag for the rut that confines hunters to 1 district/unit? Bow is OTC? Bow season runs all fall? Something along those lines?
 

sclancy27

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So every MT resident gets a general deer tag? General season runs for the month of October (give or take)? Add in a limited entry rifle tag for the rut that confines hunters to 1 district/unit? Bow is OTC? Bow season runs all fall? Something along those lines?
I think you would want to split the Bow OTC rut hunters up from the "limited" rifle hunter permits by unit or season. Like have 2 "rut" seasons, one early for limited rifle permits and one late for archery OTC, to me that makes the most sense. I can agree with all rest.
 

EYJONAS!

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So every MT resident gets a general deer tag? General season runs for the month of October (give or take)? Add in a limited entry rifle tag for the rut that confines hunters to 1 district/unit? Bow is OTC? Bow season runs all fall? Something along those lines?
Id be in favor of a pick your poison all around. District specific, weapon specific, season specific. I like the ND approach to seems similar to Saskatchewan and I personally don't think one could combat their take and structure.

A 900 archery buck tag starting in August would be absolutely awesome. Ending the end of September that would be sweet. After that rifle is 1-20. If you archery hunt that's your choice, if you rifle hunt then you can't archery hunt.
 
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