The waiting period is just about over. Yes, the general, or firearms, season for deer and elk begins on Saturday morning at dawn.
The general season runs through Thanksgiving weekend, finally ending at sunset on November 28. This five-week season that Montana has is one of the longer big game hunting seasons in the country, and one of the many reasons we appreciate living in Montana, as we have that long period of time in which to bag a deer and/or elk and fill the freezer for the year ahead.
For youth, age 10 – 17, there’s a special two-day youth deer season on Thursday and Friday. Let’s note that there are some special rules on the youth hunt, so check the regulations for the various rules for apprentice hunters, hunter safety training, and who must accompany a youth.
As always, there are things going on regarding deer and elk hunting, such as shoulder seasons or possible changes in hunting regulations in an effort to simplify the rules. I’ll note that Montana has a 136-page regulations booklet for the 2021 deer and elk season, and at that length we should probably call it a book rather than a booklet.
One of the shadows hanging over our traditional autumn hunts is chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD has been in our wild deer populations for about five years, now, and to date 457 animals have tested positive for CWD.
CWD is an incurable disease that affects elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, moose, and caribou. It has been found in wild populations in 21 states, plus Canada and Norway. Here in Montana, about two-thirds of the infected animals have been whitetail deer and one-third mule deer. Just two moose and one elk have tested positive.
This isn’t scientific, but if you look at a Montana map showing where CWD-infected animals have been taken, most cases are on the High Line, north of U.S. Highway 2, and in the south, south of I-90/I-94.
According to an article in the September issue of Bugle, the publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture agree that humans should not eat meat from a CWD-infected animal. The FDA also advises hunters to test animals harvested in an area where infected animals have been found.
The problem with current CWD testing is that it may take days or even weeks to get a test result, and by that time you’d want to have that deer carcass processed and in the freezer. It takes several years for CWD to kill an adult deer and an apparently healthy deer may be infected. An animal with advanced CWD will likely appear malnourished and in poor health. Still, looking through a telescopic sight may not give the hunter enough information to judge whether a deer looks unhealthy.
Researchers, including Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, are currently working on technologies to come up with field tests so that hunters and biologists can quickly identify an infected animal or rule out CWD in healthy animals.
My home state of Minnesota is struggling with CWD, a problem made worse because there are some 259 deer farms in the state, and captive deer herds are, let’s face it, incubators for CWD. Just last week Minnesota issued an emergency order blocking the importation and movement of captive deer into and within the state to slow down the spread.
It was controversial at the time, but Montana voters passed an initiative in 2000 to ban elk farm canned hunts and transfer of breeding stock among farms. Nevertheless, one eastern Montana elk farm had a CWD outbreak in 2020.
While CWD is an ongoing issue, this is, nonetheless, a wonderful time to live in Montana, with extended opportunities to go out in the great outdoors to harvest organically grown, top quality wild meat, and maybe even a trophy for the wall.
Remember, wear hunter orange in the field, and always get permission to hunt on private land. Keep an eye out on the weather. Stay safe and have fun.
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.