Hunters rarely battled brutal weather this fall. Instead, mild conditions kept bucks high in the mountains. Coupled with recent die-offs, that made for a relatively tough year for some folks
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas in the Northwest, keep dreaming. Meteorologists expect the mild weather to continue until the end of the year. This season’s above-average temperatures played a big role in the story of the Northwest’s 2023 deer hunting seasons. Early season temperatures were hot, often in the 70s or even 80s. With the exception of one or two isolated snowstorms in October and November, most of the Northwest remained snow-free during general hunting seasons.
At most check stations across Montana, biologists reported that warm, dry weather led to more hunters going afield. But increased hunter activity didn’t necessarily spell more success. Most check stations reported lower deer harvest numbers. The mild weather and lack of mountain snow made it challenging for hunters to find deer at lower elevations. Many hunters said they just didn’t see the mature bucks they had in the past.
Deer stayed out of reach up high or weren’t around to begin with. Many whitetail and mule deer populations in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have yet to fully recover from recent die-off events. Whitetails in Idaho and Montana faced a large outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue. Deer populations in portions of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have yet to recover from droughts in recent years. A bad summer followed by an even worse winter was catastrophic for some populations. Biologists predict roughly 60% of mule deer bucks in the Wyoming Range died this past winter. That rate was nearly 100% for fawns. The die-off led to officials cutting back on hunting opportunities.
Although fewer deer led to a tougher season, many hunters who put in the time saw success or at least enjoyed watching the rut roll out. In Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, chasing and seeking peaked for mule deer about mid-November. Hunters witnessed bucks on the move at all hours of the day. For whitetails, peak breeding activity started about Nov. 20. In Oregon and Washington, the peak breeding period for blacktails began as the calendar turned to December.
A wet spring and summer created healthy forage conditions for deer headed into winter. With the continued mild weather, many hunters are optimistic about a healthy fawn recruitment.
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