Montana's Mule Deer Crisis: A Concern for All Hunters

January 21, 2024

A Closer Look at Mule Deer Survival Struggles in Western North America

Montana's Mule Deer Crisis: A Concern for All Hunters

There has been a lot of discussion about the current Mule Deer status in Eastern Montana, but a glance across not only the west but all of North America reveals similar conversations happening in most states and countries. Let’s look at the effects it is going to have going forward. While there are often differences among various parties in the hunting world regarding various problems or how they should be resolved, this is something from the blue-collar hunter to the elite outfitters that should be a cause for concern.


In the last decade, many places in the west experienced a tremendous drought, with some areas being extreme for consecutive years. On top of that, many places followed drought years with extreme winters in the north country. Without any other contributing factors, this alone was hard on the iconic Mule Deer. When you factor in other issues like feral horses, tag quotas, CWD management practices, and increased access, there is really nothing in the Mule Deer’s favor for sustainability, let alone quality.

Most discussions revolve around giant Mule Deer in Sonora, Mexico, but there is not a high number of reputable outfitters that can consistently produce quality bucks on an annual basis. To me, Saskatchewan is king, and it is also the most strictly managed Mule Deer herd in all of North America. While there are options for non-residents to hunt in Saskatchewan, please use caution without going into the specifics. I would say all the western states are unable to produce more than a handful of high-end quality bucks, and some not even that, both due to environmental factors and management practices.


Many laugh when they hear of wealthy individuals paying high prices for that trophy buck but believe me when I say the prices are about to go crazy for true quality animals. Many outfitters will be forced to harvest younger age-class bucks as they have probably never felt this much heat to produce and save their reputation. Those areas or outfitters that can begin producing high-quality animals will be able to charge prices like nothing we have ever seen. I remember when folks would talk about the prices of some governor’s tag for sheep or Antelope Island or Arizona strip tag for deer. Last year should have been a significant indicator of what is to come for what wealthy individuals are willing to pay for high-quality Mule Deer.

Before I catch hate from people saying it should not come to this and it should not be about the money, let me say I agree with you. But I am also open to whatever incentive is available to landowners to understand the value of Big Mule Deer. Quality mule deer have just become the most valuable animals walking on most ranchers and farmer's land. If a landowner is looking to manage hunting on their ground through an outfitter or public access, be sure to do your homework.

Just like any cattle or farming operation, none of them are created the same. Talk to someone that can help you make the best decision of what not only is good for the deer but you as well. Yes, private land is usually always better than most public, especially in high quota areas. But if the herd status is bad on private, what do you think the status is on public ground? One of my favorite quotes is becoming, “I would rather see them somewhere than nowhere.” I do not know many places where there is not some kind of carryover from private to public, especially in Eastern Montana. When conditions improve in one place, they most likely improve for all.

In the next few years, I believe large quality mule deer breaking the 190-200 mark are going to bring very big checkbooks out and make it that much harder for the working man or woman to get lucky on public land. There are still those who make magic happen, but I think I speak for many when I say I do not want it to become such a rare occasion.