2022 Big Game Hunting Forecast

Much of Northwest Montana experienced its third consecutive mild winter last year, benefiting white-tailed deer. Region 1 wildlife biologists generally observed good fawn recruitment this spring, ranging from 32 to 53 fawns per 100 adults during springs surveys. Overall whitetail numbers should be stable to increasing across the region, and hunters should see a fair number of bucks this fall due to three years of solid recruitment. Hunters holding a Libby CWD Management Zone Either-Sex White-Tailed Deer B License (199-20) are reminded that the license is only valid in the Libby CWD Management Zone, an area approximately 10 miles in radius around Libby, and only including parts of hunting districts (HDs) 100, 103 or 104. Maps of the Libby CWD Management Zone are available on the FWP website or at the Kalispell regional office.

Overall, mule deer numbers should be similar to last year with a continued influx of yearling bucks. Buck harvest in the region has been up from lows in 2017 in most hunting districts and biologist anticipate buck availability to be similar to last year. The percentage of four-point or greater bucks harvested was up in 2021, and it’s anticipated to be similar results this fall. Hunters are reminded to check the regulations as only antlered bucks (i.e. a deer with an antler or antlers at least 4 inches long as measured from the top of the skull) may be harvested in Region 1. Hunters need to be aware of some regulation changes passed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission this winter. Several districts were combined, and HD 101 now has a three-week general antlered buck mule deer season followed by a limited hunt where only permit holders may harvest a mule deer buck. There is also an area in HD 103 that requires a permit to hunt mule deer (HD 103-50). FWP finalized a mule deer study that included study areas in the Whitefish Range and Fisher River areas in Region 1. That report is available on the FWP web site. Visit https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/deer for more information.

In areas where surveys were conducted in spring of 2022, elk calf recruitment was similar to last year: relatively low compared to other parts of Montana, but consistent with the five-year average for areas where surveys were conducted in northwest Montana. Surveys conducted in HD 121 resulted in 1,497 elk counted with a calf recruitment rate of 24 calves per 100 cows. Overall, elk numbers should be similar to last year. Elk hunting is challenging in northwest Montana due to difficult terrain, heavily forested areas and densities relatively lower than other areas in Montana. Elk distribution will likely change from now through the archery season and again during general rifle season due to changes in vegetation, snow levels and hunting pressure. Hunters are advised to look for areas in the backcountry away from roads and high hunting pressure.

FWP began collaring moose in HDs 105 and 106 (and in two other study areas) in 2013. So far, the moose study has revealed that the Cabinet-Salish moose population is relatively stable although perhaps at lower overall numbers than historic highs. Similar trends in moose populations are likely in most of Region 1. Visit https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/moose for more information.

Big game check stations will be open in Region 1 on weekends during the general season — Highway 2 west of Kalispell; Highway 83 north of Swan Lake; Highway 200 on the west end of Thompson Falls; and Highway 93 near Olney. The Canoe Gulch check station near Libby is no longer in operation and has been replaced by the Libby CWD sampling station located on the south end of Libby (mile marker 35 on Hwy 2). Hunters are required to stop at game check stations but stopping at the Libby CWD sampling station is voluntary.

In recent years, FWP has detected CWD in white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose in the Libby area. Hunters need to be aware of the Libby CWD Management Zone (MZ) and its boundaries, which includes portions of HDs 100, 103 and 104. In 2020, a single CWD-positive whitetail buck was detected outside the MZ near the Thompson Chain of Lakes, and another CWD-positive was discovered outside the MZ in 2021. Region 1 is not a priority surveillance area for CWD this year. Testing for CWD is voluntary and hunters wishing to have harvested deer, elk and moose tested can submit samples themselves, visit the Libby CWD Sampling Station (Montana Department of Transportation shop on U.S. Highway 2, mile marker 35) on weekends during the general season or stop by the Region 1 Headquarters in Kalispell (490 North Meridian) during business hours Monday thru Friday. FWP staff’s ability to collect samples at game check stations will be limited and will occur only if it can be done safely and check stations are not busy. Hunters are encouraged to submit samples for testing, particularly in the Libby CWD MZ, so FWP can better assess the status of CWD in northwest Montana. Visit fwp.mt.gov/cwd for more information.

Only seven mountain goat tags are available within Region 1. Continued concerns about declining native goat herds necessitate this conservative allocation. Adult survival, particularly that of older-aged females, appears to drive population changes in mountain goats. Hunters are reminded that in Regions 1, 2 and 4 it is unlawful to take a female mountain goat accompanying a kid or a female in a group that contains one or more kids. Contact your local area biologist for details on mountain goat distribution and herd trajectories.

Overall, black bear numbers appear to be steady in northwest Montana. Due to a cool spring, huckleberry crops are patchy and late to ripen. If huckleberries are ripe and plentiful into September, bears may be widely dispersed. If huckleberry crops fail in large areas of northwestern Montana, black bears may move down into lower elevations and riparian areas where they are more accessible to hunters. Hunters should seek areas with a variety of other abundant food sources like serviceberries, chokecherries and mountain ash.

All successful bear hunters are required to report the harvest within 48 hours on the Harvest Reporting Line or through the MyFWP portal. Successful hunters in Region 1 are required to submit a premolar tooth, the sex of the harvested bear, bear management unit number and general location of the harvest within 10 days of harvest. This regulation applies only to Region 1. Hunters in other regions are required to submit the hide and skull to an FWP official within 10 days of harvest so FWP can collect a tooth for aging. The tooth will be sent to a laboratory where the age of the bear will be determined. FWP biologists use this age information, along with the sex of the bear, to manage bear populations in Montana. Currently hunting black bears with hounds is not legal in Region 1. If a bear hunter would like to know the age of the bear they harvested, they may look on MyFWP, or call their local area biologist. Results are available 9 to 12 months after the season’s close. For more information, visit fwp.mt.gov.

Northwest Montana has abundant wolf numbers and recent population estimates indicate a relatively stable wolf population. The 2021 harvest was down from the record harvest in 2020, but populations appear healthy. Wolf-related legislation and Fish and Wildlife Commission season changes may affect several aspects of the 2022 hunting and trapping seasons, and hunters are encouraged to closely check regulations and the FWP website for updates. Despite good numbers, wolves can be difficult to find, don’t always move as a pack and often move long distances. If hunters want to be successful, scouting and understanding wolf behavior is important. Visit https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/wolf for more information.

Northwest Montana has abundant mountain lion numbers. For the 2022 season, changes to the 2022 mountain lion regulations allow for purchase of a general lion license or an unlimited lion license until February 28, 2023. Hunters interested in pursuing mountain lions are encouraged to review the 2022 hunting regulations.

For any further questions, consult your local area biologist or the 2022 hunting regulations.

Submitted by Montana FWP

Northwest Montana (Region 1) Reminders

Elk hunting is brow-tined bull only in Region 1 (northwest Montana) except in Hunting District 170, unless a hunter has an antlerless elk permit or a Permit to Hunt from a Vehicle (PTHFV). A brow-tined bull is defined as, “any elk having an antler or antlers with a visible point on the lower half of either main beam that is greater than or equal to four inches long.”

Many private lands that were historically owned by corporate timber companies have changed ownership, and hunters should review the Block Management Program for Region 1 to view available public access opportunities and restrictions on private lands.

The toll-free hotline for reporting wildlife poaching, property damage, and violations of Montana fish and game laws is in operation 24 hours a day. If you witness a fish and game violation, or property vandalism, you can report the crime by calling 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668); or report a violation online at fwp.mt.gov. Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

Submitted by Montana FWP

Northwest Montana (Region 1) Reminders

Hunters should review the regulations for each hunting district they plan to hunt.

Hunters should “Be Bear Aware” and properly store food and carcasses. Hunters should avoid hanging carcasses near houses or garages. Carcasses should be suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from any upright support. Hunters are encouraged to carry bear spray and know how to use it. More food storage and safety information are available on the FWP website.

Hunters who purchased the limited 199-20 either-sex white-tailed deer B license can only use that license within the Libby CWD Management Zone.

Hunters can harvest an either-sex white-tailed deer on their general deer license from Oct. 22-Oct. 28 in most Region 1 hunting districts. Youth ages 10-15 and hunters with a Permit to Hunt from a Vehicle (PTHFV) can still harvest either-sex whitetails throughout most of the region for the remainder of the season (check regulations for specifics). An “either-sex” deer is defined as, “a male or female animal of any age.”