Hunter, harvest numbers down in south central Montana
BILLINGS — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists in south central Montana saw fewer hunters and less harvested game in 2012 than last year or the long-term average. The agency runs four regional check stations through the antelope and general big-game seasons.
For the year, south central Montana’s check stations saw 10.8 percent fewer hunters and 6.6 percent fewer harvested animals than in 2011.
The 2012 general big-game season closed Sunday. Hunters still may pursue upland game birds, pheasant, turkeys and waterfowl. Bison and wolf hunting seasons also remain open in Montana.
At the Columbus check station, the number of hunters and harvested mule deer were down from last year and from the long-term average, both for the closing weekend and the entire season. FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported, however, that the white-tailed deer and elk harvest tallied at Columbus were among the best on record.
For the closing weekend, 208 hunters stopped at Columbus. Half had harvested animals. Last year 280 hunters stopped during the same weekend, but only 45 percent had killed game.
For the season, Stewart checked 1,103 hunters, 40 percent of whom had harvested big game. That number of hunters is 11 percent below the 2011 and historic average of 1,237 people.
Stewart checked 62 white-tailed deer over the weekend, one animal more than last year. Many of the white-tailed deer checked were bucks – 82 percent of which were two years old or older. For the year, hunters who stopped at Columbus checked 232 white-tailed deer – just four short of the record year in 2010 and well ahead of the long-term average of 182 animals.
For the season, hunters brought 34 elk through the Columbus check station, double the long-term average of 17 animals.
The mule deer harvest reported at Columbus was at a record low, however, down substantially from last year and only 48.4 percent of the long-term average. Stewart checked 168 mule deer for the season, down from 238 last year and an average of 347.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer reported a record low number of hunters for the season. The number of mule deer checked in 2012 at Lavina also is at a historic low.
For the closing weekend of the 2012 season, 447 hunters stopped at the Lavina check station, down 20 percent from 559 last year. However, 32 percent of hunters had harvested game, up from 29 percent in 2011.
For the entire general season, 1,681 hunters stopped at Lavina – the fewest recorded and well below the long-term average of 2,351. The white-tailed deer harvest reported at Lavina was 52.4 percent of average while the mule deer harvest was 45.7 percent of average.
The 2012 elk harvest, which started strong early in the season, ended up at 84 percent of average. Beyer checked 33 elk over the final weekend, bringing the total for the year to 89 at Lavina.
At the Laurel check station, hunter numbers were up from 2011, both for the closing weekend and the entire season. The white-tailed deer harvest has improved steadily over the past three years, but remains below the long-term average.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson reported that 232 hunters stopped at Laurel over the weekend, up five from 2011. Hunter success was at 36 percent compared to 41 percent on the same weekend a year ago. More white-tailed deer and fewer mule deer were checked over the weekend than during the same time in 2011.
For the year, Watson checked 749 hunters during four weekends that the Laurel station was open. That is 87.3 percent or the long-term average. This year 29 percent of hunters had game when they stopped at Laurel compared to a long-term average of 37.6 percent.
The Big Timber check station ended the season with more hunters than average, But FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that harvest of all big game species was below average for the year.
For the closing weekend, 240 hunters stopped at Big Timber compared to 198 last year. While 51.3 percent of those who stopped over the weekend had harvested animals, last year’s tally during the same weekend was 65.2 percent.
For the year, Paugh checked 976 hunters – slightly more than the long-term average of 971.5. Overall, 43.6 percent of hunters who stopped at Big Timber had harvested animals compared to a long-term average of 48.9 percent.
The white-tailed deer and elk harvests were 94 percent of average while 83 percent as many mule deer as usual were brought to the check station.
FWP operates check stations throughout the antelope and general big game seasons to gather biological information about the state’s herds and hunting conditions. Game wardens also check some hunters at the stations for compliance with state laws.
All hunters are required to stop at any check station they pass either on the way to or the way home from the field, whether or not they have harvested game.