Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality of Male Mule Deer Under Different Hunting Regulations in the Bridger Mountains, Montana



Abstract: We selected 2 adjacent populations of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) in the Bridger Mountains, Montana, USA, to measure effects on survival rates and causes of mortality of 2 hunting regulations designed to enhance representation of mature males. We compared male survival between the West Slope and South 16 Mile populations considering both hunting and nonhunting sources of mortality with respect to age (fawn, yearling, and mature), month (Jun-May), and year (1990-1995). Harvest rates of mature males were greater than for yearlings, demonstrating hunter preferences. We found no differences in yearling monthly survival rates between October and November or between areas or years. In contrast, we found survival of mature males differed between October and November and across years and study areas. During these months, survival rates of mature males averaged 0.602 on the West Slope under the 2-point regulation and 0.762 on South 16 Mile under the outfitted hunt. Monthly survival during summer also differed by age class, but not area, with estimates of 0.963 for yearling males, and corresponding mature male survival estimates of 0.991, demonstrating greater yearling summer mortality. Winter survival rates of yearlings and matures were similar for both areas with a monthly estimate of 0.986. We found differences in spring monthly survival estimates for the 2 areas, mainly for matures. Yearling male monthly survival estimates were 0.959 and 0.958 for the 2 areas, whereas corresponding mature male estimates during spring were 0.991 and 0.936 on the West Slope and South 16 Mile, respectively. Fawn survival rates varied from 0.101 to 0.770 among years and between areas overwinter. Cumulative effects of nonhunting mortality among all age classes reduced the effectiveness of 2 hunting regulations designed to enhance survival of males to age classes ≥4 years associated with maximum antler development despite accomplishing reductions in harvest rates. Low and variable fawn survival and relatively high nonhunting-related losses of yearling and mature males might be typical of many populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Deer managers should avoid populations coexisting with a diversity of large predators in environments with strong year effects when considering opportunities for implementing harvest regulations to improve representation of mature males.