This year’s elk and deer season came to a close on Sunday evening—sort of.
Because of the mild and mostly snow-less autumn, several elk districts in Region 2 will stay open on mostly private lands for elk B tag holders until January 15.
In addition, several elk districts have shoulder seasons that will extend the season into February.
In short, depending on what tags you have left in your pocket, there is still elk hunting to be done, though deer are now off-limits until the 2022 seasons.
According to press releases from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, hunter success, as gauged by hunters coming through check stations, has been about average to less than average in most regions.
Of course, statistics on hunter success are mostly meaningless when it comes down to the individual hunter, as our personal perspectives of what constitutes a successful season usually equates to our own success.
I follow a Facebook page, My Montana Hunt, which has had all sorts of photos and brief stories of hunting success, with many showing photos of first deer or elk taken by youth, plus some stories of tough hunting but eventual success, including one that caught my attention, of finding a big mule deer buck some six miles from where the hunt began. I’m glad I wasn’t packing out that big deer.
On a personal note, I’ll report that this season I never took my rifle out of the house and didn’t buy a deer tag, either.
As any hunter can verify, the great outdoors is one big minefield of hazards waiting to trip us up. In my case, back in October, near the end of a day of chasing pheasants across the prairie, I tripped on something in the grass and took a fall, landing mostly on my right shoulder.
The medical diagnosis is that I have a rotator cuff tear, and I’m currently doing therapy to try to restore arm and shoulder function, in hopes that I’ll be able to avoid surgery. In any event, when an opportunity to go look for a whitetail deer came up, I took a pass. Shooting wouldn’t be a problem, as I’ve been bird hunting with a shotgun, but dealing with deer hunting success, from field dressing to loading up to taking care of a carcass at home presented a lot of issues.
I still have venison in the freezer from last year’s successful deer hunt, so I’ll continue working on clearing out the freezer.
Deer have, however, been on my mind the last few weeks. My last two columns were about hunting pheasants in western North Dakota in early November. A downside to those hunts was finding dead deer on my walks.
Some areas of North Dakota had an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) this autumn that caused widespread deer mortality. EHD is a viral disease, transmitted by tiny biting midges. EHD primarily affects white-tailed deer, though mule deer and antelope occasionally get it, too. Infected deer get sick and die within 8 to 36 hours.
During three days of wandering around in search of pheasants I saw seven deer carcasses in various stages of being recycled by scavengers. We talked to an area farmer who said he’d seen 21 dead deer in one creek bottom. Infected deer feel dehydrated and seek out water sources, such as creeks.
A ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front where I’ve hunted pheasants for many years had an invasion of whitetails where, previously, most deer on the property were mule deer. Then, around ten years ago, I found several deer carcasses, all victims of EHD, all near an irrigation ditch where they went for water. I haven’t seen a whitetail on the ranch since then.
The midges that carry the EHD virus usually die off after the first frost of autumn. Western North Dakota didn’t have a hard frost until late October, a good month behind schedule. In essence, those dead deer were a victim of climate change.
It’s not pretty.
Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.