Mule deer numbers is the Bitterroot Valley haven’t been up to par, as shown in previous years, even in the valley’s trophy district. A recent survey showed dwindling numbers compared to years past, with little explanation.

"We've basically been seeing these long term declines and not just in the Bitterroot, but all across western Montana and the western United States," FWP's Rebecca Mowry said. "For example, we have been surveying Hunting District 270, which is the most popular trophy district in the state right now. That's here in the upper Bitterroot, the south Bitterroot. Within the last decade or so, we've seen improving buck numbers, and we've had fairly steady fawn recruitment as well. But for some reason, the overall population just keeps going down."

With that, Mowry said biologists will further focus their survey to look more closely at the does.

"We've capturing and radio collaring mule deer does and trying to determine what's causing that decline. We think the important part of the decline is probably going on in the doe segment," Mowry said. "A lot of people will suggest predators and we're looking at that. We're going to be looking at sources of mortality. You know, is it predators that are killing them and if so, which predators. We are also looking at the habitat as well."

The Ravalli Republic reported that in the early 1990s, biologists counted as many as 2,500 mule deer in Hunting District 270. More recently, mule deer numbers in the same district peaked at over 1,700 in 2009. Numbers have been dropping ever since, with a low point of about 700 in 2012.