MT Fish, Wildlife Parks aerial survey shows increase in Bitterroot mule deer

Result might be due to change in hunting rules-

Eyes in the sky: FWP aerial survey counts Bitterroot deer on the ground. By Perry Backus. Ravalli Republic.

The figures look good.





  1. Jay Avatar

    Or the it might be due to the decrease in the number of elk, since elk tend to out-compete deer.

    1. SAP Avatar

      That was a thought that popped into my head, Jay. Are elk — especially elk that are not used to wolves — perhaps more vulnerable to wolf predation than mulies? A 100 pound mule deer on a rocky mountain mahogany slope isn’t much of a net energy gain for wolves.

      Mulies tend not to spend as much time out in the open flats as elk do, and as browsers can get by in some steep brushy country that wouldn’t support many elk.

      Some folks have complained that high elk numbers are squeezing out mulies; some also point to water developments (some for livestock, some expressly for elk) as an artificial boost to elk numbers at the expense of mule deer. Maybe wolves are equalizing the competition.

      1. WM Avatar

        A companion thought: If Scott Creel is correct in his initial conclusions that fear of depredation causes elk to move to higher elevations, more dense cover and steeper slopes, where they eat more browse, they would naturally compete more with deer. So, is it possible there is another yet unstudied relationship between wolves …… and mule deer populations?

        From the 1994 wolf reintroduction EIS, it was believed wolves would consume more deer in some areas of the NRM. Their preference, however, has been to select more for elk, often calves, which reputedly messes with the population dynamics, resulting in lower calf recruitment to replace the older animals that die off naturally, or are killed by hunters and wolves (newer risk to the landscape).

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        My view is that there are an incredible number of secondary and tertiary effects of one wildlife species on others.

        It’s one of the things that makes watching, studying and spending time outdoors interesting — to watch the changes and try to figure things out.

      3. PointsWest Avatar

        I believe the weather or season makes a large difference on survival, reproduction, and the habits of deer especially. I know deer do not eat them but take the huckleberry crop for example. In northern Idaho, some years the huckleberry crop is so tremendous, you are overwhelmed by the sweet smell of huckleberries whenever you drive a back road into the Clearwater NF. Other years, there may not be much of a crop at all.

        I think the same must be true of other plants that deer do tend to browse. Some years are very good for a certain shoots, and sprouts, or seed heads as where other years are very poor. Some years, deer head into winter fat on seed heads as where other years they do not. I’ve also noticed how an area can look different from year to year. Some hillside will be very green with leafy plants one year and be very brown and sparse with dry grasses the next. The differences from year to year can be dramatic sometimes.

        The length, severity, and the timing of winter can also make a tremendous difference to both surviving the winter and successful fawning in the spring. I’m sure a late spring snow storm kills fawns, for example.

        When the 13 bears came down into Albuquerque in 1985, it was because of an acorn crop failure. The acorn crop had failed because of bad thunderstorms in the Sandia Mountains during the critical pollinating season. Bad thunderstorms during a critical two week period in spring and the bears were starving by late summer.

        There are many plants deer browse and bad year for one plant might be offset by a good year for another plant. Sometimes many crops are bad and other times many crops are good.

        My guess would be that in most areas, hunting and predation are always secondary factors when compared to how much browse was availble to deer in a given season. This is in general, I’m sure there are exceptions.

      4. WM Avatar

        And then there is the bad winter, late spring, or whatever Mother Nature has in store.

        Of course, relevant to this story, the unintended consequences of aerial surveys. A few years back a helicopter ran a herd of elk on to an ice covered reservoir – pregnant cows and mature bulls – and you guessed it, the ice broke and they all drowned. IDFG was indeed embarrassed as they should have been.

  2. Mike Avatar

    Good for the mule deer. The Bitterroots sure are beautiful, too.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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