Weather conditions that big game hunters dream about it hit most of Montana the last ten days of the General Big Game Rifle Season. By the time the hunting season came to a close last Sunday the cold and snow that much of the state received aided hunters in filling their tags. I hunted with Chip Wilcox from Stevensville last week and when we headed home on Thanksgiving Day we had two cow elk to bring home with us. The below zero temperatures that followed heavy snow fall last week in Southwest Montana enabled us to see more elk than we have ever seen hunting that area in the last seven years. There were times that you could see hundreds of elk as they fed and milled around on the timber-less mountainsides. The elk looked so close through binoculars but were normally about a mile away. In southwest Montana the elk harvest was up compared with 2009 and the six year average according to the data that was collected at the seven hunter check stations that run by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. About 12,019 hunters passed through the seven check stations with 778 elk, 212 mule deer, and 101 white-tail deer. The overall percentage of hunters with game was 9.1.
In Region 4 along the Rocky Mountain Front the number of elk harvest in the last eight days of the season was even more impressive. “Approximately 50 percent of the entire elk harvest for all HD’s in Region 4 as seen through the check stations occurred the last eight days of the season” added Brent Lonner, Fish Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist, “Mule and white-tailed deer harvest was pretty steady through most of the season”. Even with those elk numbers the elk harvest for the season was only slightly above average in Region 4.
In Northwest Montana the white-tail deer harvest was strong the last two days of the season with the snow and the rut combined for ideal hunting conditions. The regional deer harvest has been low the last few years and based on the check station sample this year it will be similar. However, the whitetail deer population is not continuing to decline across northwest Montana as bucks checked at most station have stabilized or increased despite a drop in hunter numbers this year. The report from FWP also says that biologists in northwest Montana will also be looking at the age classes of checked deer to give a clearer picture of population trend.
Closer to home in Western Montana elk numbers were in line with last year while white-tailed deer was up 30 percent and mule deer numbers were down 22 percent from last year. Hunter numbers were down for the region most markedly at the Darby check station where they showed 2000 less hunters than 2009.
One thing stands out for sure. That Mother Nature came to the rescue the last 10 days of the season, making it possible for hunters that braved the cold and snowy conditions to fill their freezers.