Hunting prospects in Bitterroot Valley look promising

2013-10-15T16:00:00Z 2013-10-15T16:05:51Z Hunting prospects in Bitterroot Valley look promising

Hunters with elk permits in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot have reason for hope this year.

For the second year in a row, elk numbers have continued to rebound in both the east and west forks of the Bitterroot.

“It’s shaping up to be a good year in that region,” said Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife manager Mike Thompson. “We had the fourth highest count of elk in HD 270 (East Fork) that we’ve ever had.”

This past spring, biologists counted 4,386 elk in the East Fork of the Bitterroot.

While elk numbers aren’t anywhere near their peak in the West Fork, Thompson said the herd appears to be on the rebound there as well. Biologists counted 985 on their annual flight last spring.

Thompson said there are several reasons for the recent rebound for elk in the southern Bitterroot that start with a dramatic reduction in hunting opportunity over the past few years.

Hunters are required to obtain a permit to hunt elk in both hunting districts.

There was no set limit on the number of permits for hunting bull elk in HD 270 or the East Fork, but hunters did have to apply earlier in the year and give up opportunities to draw a more coveted permit elsewhere in the state.

In HD 250 (West Fork), the state offered only handful of bull permits.

“We’ve backed way off hunting cow elk in both hunting districts,” Thompson said. “We also killed a few more mountain lion and extended the bear season. We have done whatever we could to favor elk.”

In response, Thompson said there has been a pretty good pulse in the numbers this year.

“What we don’t know for sure is how many of those elk were displaced this year from the big Idaho fires that burned last summer,” he said. “That’s something we’ll have to wait and see.”

Hunters looking to hunt in Bitterroot districts further north may want to get to know a landowner or two before the season gets underway.

“A lot of the opportunity further north seems to be on private land,” Thompson said. “We’ve seen quite a shift on where elk are spending most of their time in that part of the valley. It’s probably going to be important for people wanting to hunt there to get permission to hunt on private land.”


Buck mule deer numbers seem to be holding their own this year, but that’s probably temporary.

“The population trend for mule deer is down for reasons we don’t exactly understand at this point,” Thompson said.

Healthy numbers of predators are probably playing a role.

“Mule deer numbers are down generally throughout the west,” he said. “Here in western Montana, we have to wonder how fast they will bounce back. It’s a different world than it was the last time their numbers dropped.

“We have a much higher density of carnivores this time,” Thompson said.

Like elk in the northern Bitterroot, mule deer seem to be faring best in the lower elevations where a mix of subdivision and small agricultural operations make hunting access a challenge.

“There are quite a few landowners who are interested in thinning down the numbers of deer on their properties,” Thompson said. “It will be a matter of hunters matching up with them.”

The recent mortalities of whitetail deer from the disease EHD in western Montana did not impact populations in the Bitterroot Valley.

“We had a spot or two around Lolo where we collected samples that look like EHD, but it didn’t seem to go further south than that,” Thompson said.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - October 18, 2013 3:39 pm
    The Montana FWP Dept. does seem to have changed for the worse, and they still don't seem to understand that wolves, in conjunction with other predators, can drastically affect game populations.
  2. mtkeen
    Report Abuse
    mtkeen - October 16, 2013 10:30 am
    RSW These armchair biologists as you call them know more about whats really happening than these so-called biologists. Doesn't take rocket science. Guess it may come from experience living working and recreating in the same areas years in and year out. Arm chair biologists aren't just popping in and out to do some predetermined privately funded study. I'd trust a guy sitting in his armchair looking out the window at whats happening in his backyard before I'd trust the corrupt FWP. All the science you need is out there. Bar stool or arm chair is better than corrupt biologists at least they aren't following an agenda. Makes me wonder how many of these FWP biologist actually hunt big game and how many truly care about hunting in Montana or in general. Better yet, how many of them eat meat? The ones I've seen look like scrawny vegans. Should give ya a clue. A true scientist follows facts and data whether they like it or not, not a predetermined agenda.
  3. RSW
    Report Abuse
    RSW - October 16, 2013 8:28 am
    I see the armchair biologists are out and in force again. I love the experts and their opinions on this subject. Where does all your science come from? Let me guess, the bar stool.
  4. gadflyohsofly
    Report Abuse
    gadflyohsofly - October 16, 2013 6:47 am
    That's part of the fraud. They can convince people elk are doing well because there are lee elk visible in the hay fields.
  5. BWO
    Report Abuse
    BWO - October 16, 2013 5:38 am
    Funny...I heard there were no elk because the wolves and Californians did them all in. Once the wolves are gone we can start shooting more bears and lions, and squirrels...I hear they are nuts. Too bad wildlife has become a commodity for hunters and FWP, instead of rightful occupants of the land. Mother Nature will win out in the long run.
  6. AAO22
    Report Abuse
    AAO22 - October 15, 2013 10:53 pm
    Interesting how there is not one word mentioned of wolves...FWP will do anything and everything to place blame on lions and bears when there has never been such a decline in elk numbers before wolves came into the mix. Funny how mountain lions have always been here in healthy populations and so have deer and elk. Funny how elk and deer are now staying lower in the valleys and holed up on private ranches - most which do not allow hunting.
  7. gadflyohsofly
    Report Abuse
    gadflyohsofly - October 15, 2013 9:28 pm
    Mountain lion hunting in Montana is a joke. It should be over the counter, with large or no quotas. Special draw to hunt a cat is a joke. There are plenty and there aren't that many cat hunters.
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian ( may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Search our events calendar

Deals & Offers