GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Four years after the brutal winter that caused an antelope die-off on a scale that hadn’t been seen in decades in Montana, prairie pronghorn are rebounding, according to state Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
“I think people are definitely excited about antelope returning to the landscape,” said Drew Henry, a FWP wildlife biologist in Glasgow-based Region 6 in northeastern Montana, where pronghorn were hardest hit. “Nobody’s forgotten about the 10-11 winter.”
Hunters and landowners are reporting more pronghorn observations, and FWP biologists say that’s because more fawns and immature bucks are surviving.
Antelope rifle season opened Oct. 10 and concludes Nov. 8.
“They’re coming back because we’ve had a series of milder winters and decent fawn production,” Gary Sullivan, Region 6 supervisor, told the Great Falls Tribune.
In 2009, the season before the harsh 2010-11 winter, hunters harvested 23,884 pronghorn statewide.
Last year, the harvest was 8,726.
So far this fall, FWP regions are reporting improved antelope numbers in many areas of the state.
The estimated population in northeast Montana’s Region 6, based on aerial surveys in 18 counting units, is now 36 percent below the long-term average, Henry said.
That’s an improvement from last year when it was 50 percent below the long-term average.
At a check station set up near Kidd in southwest Montana on opening weekend of antelope rifle season, 126 antelope were checked compared with 90 in 2014.
In Billings, FWP checked 52 antelope compared with 37 harvested opening weekend last year.
In Havre, antelope harvest was up 48 percent, but still was still 81 percent below the long-term average for opening weekend.
Proposals for the 2016 and 2017 hunting seasons will be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December, followed by public meetings and several additional comment opportunities in January 2016.
Increasing quotas in some areas in northeastern Montana will be proposed as a result of the improving pronghorn numbers, Henry said.
Two positive developments came from the pronghorn die-off, Sullivan said.
Hunters lucky enough to draw a tag this year should have success filling it because hunting pressure is so low.
And when numbers are high, it doesn’t seem like people hold antelope in very high regard, Sullivan said. With their numbers lower now, antelope are getting more respect.
Sullivan says they deserve it.
“I think antelope are one of the most under-appreciated big game species,” Sullivan said.
Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com