Blacktails along the coast are actively chasing, seeking, and breeding while whitetails and mule deer in the land-locked states are starting to focus on finding food and late estrous does
Rut and hunter activity is slowing down across the Northwest. With scattered archery and muzzleloader seasons still open in certain units and areas, hunters are taking advantage of the post-rut habits and mild weather windows.
Bowhunters report that blacktails are still actively seeking, chasing, and breeding in Oregon and Washington. The first week of December was the final opportunity for many hunters to chase the grey ghost. For those with un-notched tags, the final days of the season provided excellent opportunity. These traditionally elusive animals were more visible in the thick timber as they moved at more hours of the day in search of does.
Weather has also made it possible for hunters to get out for late-season opportunities. December can be a challenging month to hunt in the Northwest. In 2022, hunters battled a brutal December with major snowstorms and weeks of below-freezing or even below-zero temperatures. This year is milder. Most of the Northwest has significantly lower-than-average snowpack. While this isn’t good news for ski resorts, it provides easier hunting opportunities.
While warm, dry conditions can contribute to more hunters in the field, it doesn’t necessarily yield hunter success. Montana’s check station data is beginning to paint a picture of the state’s 2023 season. In North-Central Montana, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks check stations report above-average hunter numbers for the season with below-average big game harvest. Biologists say hunter numbers were up 2% from last year and 15% above the long-term average. Mule deer harvest was down 12% from 2022 and 2% before the long-term average. Whitetail harvest was up 9% from last year but 2% lower than the long-term average. Biologists say hunters reported seeing fewer mule deer and whitetails.
At Montana’s Augusta station, mule deer harvest was the highest since 2018; however, it remained 27% below the long-term average. Whitetail harvest was 8% below the long-term average but 18% higher than last year. In Northwest Montana, hunter numbers and deer harvest results were very similar to last year. In Billings, mule deer harvest was below the long-term average while whitetail harvest was near average. While check stations are done for the season, a few more tags will get notched as Montana’s heritage muzzleloader season runs December 9-17.
Hunters looking to get out in the Northwest can expect changing weather conditions. This past weekend brought heavy rain, mountain snow, and strong winds to the Pacific Northwest and into parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.