By Robert Lucke
If you are seeing many more antelope this year than you have seen in quite a number of years, that is because there are more antelope this year.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel are seeing plenty of antelope all over this area even though they have not yet done their 1999 antelope count.
And all the antelope sightings will lead to higher numbers of antelope permits being issued this year if trends continue.
We do our count in early to mid July, said Havre Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Al Rosgaard. Locally, I fly around areas from Chinook to Zurich all the way to the Canadian border from Lohman to Zurich south to the Bear Paw Mountains.
Rosgaard knows without ever leaving the ground that there are more antelope than last year.
I guess just from our observation, it seems like the numbers are up, continued Rosgaard. As to why that may be, you know we had a very mild winter so there was good survival and recruitment from last years fawns into the adult population. And you would expect good fawn production this year. Not only that, but after the rains, the range conditions should be good.
If the air count of antelope bears out what FWP people think, that will result in a higher number of antelope permits being available this fall.
In fact, we have already made recommendations for tentative antelope hunting, said Rosgaard. We have given a heads up to the Commission (FWP Commission) that there are going to be some changes. Tentatively, and we can still change that, there is going to be an increase in permits in both areas 600 and 690. We can change them yet, depending on what we see. The commission meets the first week in August to set the fall quotas for antelope and tentatively we are looking at a 10 to 25 percent increase in antelope permits. However, that could go up or down yet, but at least we are indicating that our best guess is there will be permit increases from what the map shows now.
As plentiful as antelope are in the country, still it is a rare sight to see them in the Bear Paw Mountains. That is for a reason.
Typically, antelope are a plains animal. Their main strategy is their eyesight against predators, Rosgaard added. On a flat area they can see long distances. Their legs are more built for a flat area as well. They are much more adapted for plains country. That is not to say that they arent in the mountains. In the last five to 10 years, we have seen some in the steep country of the Bear Paws.
Unlike deer, antelope are not browsers, preferring to feed mainly on grasses. Bear Paw grasses could entice them into the mountains, but probably not for long. Their keen eyesight has problems in heavily forested areas. Typically, antelope like nothing to obscure their view, Rosgaard noted.
With all the antelope around this year, this is a great time to take the family antelope viewing and Rosgaard knows the best viewing areas.
If you drive any of the roads north from Chinook or south from Chinook, like the Clear Creek Road, the Lloyd Road or the Cleveland Road or north from Zurich all the way to the Canadian border, you will see antelope, Rosgaard said.