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2016 Bridger Mountains Flight Report - Montana

August 13, 2017

In 2016, Julie Cunningham and Joe Rahn conducted an aerial survey of the Bridger Mountains.



DATE: 7/21/16

PILOT: Joe Rahn

OBSERVER: Julie Cunningham

AIRCRAFT: Hughes 500

DURATION: 1.5 hours

OBJECTIVE: Count and classify mountain goats in the Bridger Mountains

CONDITIONS: We started after completing the Spanish Peaks (HD324) survey unit, at 8:30 am under clear skies, calm winds, and warming temperatures. The flight began at 66F, and ended at 75F. It seems likely we began to miss some mountain goats as temperatures warmed. 

COUNTS: we counted 39 mountain goats total. Of these, we classified 32 adults and 7 kids. Counts were strikingly similar to the 38 (30 adults and 8 kids) counted in 2009 and the 38 (also 30 adults and 8 kids) counted in 2005. However, these counts are punctuated by a poor dedicated survey in 2012 of just 25 goats and an incidental sighting report of 52 mountain goats seen in winter 2012 by Karen Loveless on a fly-over Ross Pass while performing HD 393 mule deer surveys. 

We flew from Baldy Mountain at the southern end of the Bridger Mountains north to Blacktail Mouuntain. Though flights have not documented goats on Blacktail in the past, anecdotal reports from hunters have indicated some goat activity in the area. We did not find any goats north of Pass Creek on this survey. 

Although flight reports have been disappointing, hunter returns continue to be excellent. Harvest data have shown an average success rate of 92% over the last 10 years, over which 5 licesnes were available annually. The proportion of female harvest is low, just 20% of total harvests are female. Hunter effort averages 4.6 days per hunter. There have been 13 goats with 10" or greater horns checked. The average age of harvested goats is 5.5 years old over the last 5 y ears. 

This unit merits further survey effort. It seems that summer flights have been under-estimating total mountain goats in the unit. Given the incidental high count in winter, a winter survey may be more informative. 

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