The rut is pretty much done in the Rockies, while bucks in the coastal states are still chasing and breeding.
What a difference a year makes. Last year, I tagged out on elk and deer during the opening week of Montana’s general season. This year, I hunted hard until the very end. Admittedly, I spent a lot more time afield this season attempting to train a bird dog while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of upland and waterfowl hunting myself. The final weeks of my big game season also got a bit derailed while caring for sick family members. But with the end of the season quickly approaching, I was determined to get out.
On Montana’s final day of the general season, I watched the sun rise over a river bottom as I listened to the sounds of mallards and Canada geese. Nobody tells you owning a bird dog doesn’t mean battling a guilty conscience every time you leave the house in camo without her. A few minutes into shooting light a small forked-horn whitetail buck chased a doe past me at 10 yards. I then glassed a young 4x4 and a young 3x3 feeding together as they moved from agricultural fields to their bedding area. Not the rut activity I was seeing two weeks ago. I glassed another young 4x4 with a doe slowly moving toward thick cover. At one point this buck began to chase the doe, but then quickly returned to feeding before disappearing into the thick cover. And that’s how my season ended, a beautiful morning watching young bucks that I look forward to seeing next year.
I’m not the only one already setting my sights on next year. With the majority of seasons closed in the Northwest, hunters are eagerly making plans for their next opportunity. Idaho nonresident deer and elk tags went on sale on December 1. Demand for nonresident tags in the Northwest has risen dramatically in recent years, creating what some hunters call a chaotic online sale system in Idaho. Hopeful hunters waited in a virtual line — sometimes behind more than 25,000 people — in hopes of purchasing a tag in their preferred hunt area.
As the seasons begin to wrap up, harvest reports are slowly coming in. These reports tell the bigger picture of how the populations are rebounding from recent droughts and winter kill. In Wyoming, mule deer harvests are down in many areas, especially in those that experienced a brutal winter that wiped out antelope and mule deer. According to WyoFile, an independent news outlet, one western Wyoming check station saw roughly a 70% decline in mule deer harvests this year.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is thanking hunters for submitting a record number of elk and deer samples to be tested for chronic wasting disease. CWD has yet to be detected in Washington, but with positive cases in neighboring Idaho, officials are concerned. More than 400 hunters submitted samples, which is up from roughly 300 last year.
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