BILLINGS — More hunters stopped at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations in south central Montana this year than in 2012, but the deer harvest was down from last year and the long-term average. The number of checked elk was up from last year and well above the long-term average.
At the Columbus check station, FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported the lowest number of hunters for any weekend this season—12 percent fewer than the same weekend in 2012 – and fewer deer and elk than last year.
For the entire five-week general season, Stewart checked 1,320 hunters – the most since 2004 and eight percent more than the long-term average. Of those hunters, just 30 percent took home an animal – the lowest percentage since before 1999 and well below the long-term average of 44 percent.
The 182 white-tailed deer checked at Columbus during the season were 22 percent fewer than last year, but near the long-term average of 186. The mule deer harvest was slightly better than in 2012, but 47 percent below the long-term average. For the year, 36 elk were checked at Columbus, well ahead of the long-term average of 19.
At FWP’s Big Timber check station, wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported fewer hunters over the final weekend than the same weekend last year. The deer harvest also was well below last year and the long term average. The percentage of hunter who took home game was the lowest on record for the closing weekend of the year — just 39 percent. The elk harvest remained strong, however, with 14 animals checked compared to 10 during the same weekend in 2012 and 16 over the long-term.
For the entire season, 982 hunters stopped at Big Timber compared to 976 in 2012 and a long-term average of 1,001. The percentage of hunters who took home an animal was the lowest on record, however – just 34 percent compared to a long-term average of 55 percent. The white-tailed deer harvest was off by 44 percent this year with only 106 animals checked. Paugh checked 144 mule deer, down 40 percent from the long-term average. The elk harvest remained strong all season with 57 elk checked – 10 more than the average season total.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer checked 508 hunters with a total of 102 animals over the weekend for a success rate of 20 percent. In 2012, 447 hunters checked 143 animals for a 32-percent harvest rate during the final weekend of the general season. Over the weekend, hunters checked 22 white-tailed deer – half as many as the closing weekend in 2012. Fifty mule deer were checked compared to 65 the previous year. Thirty elk were checked Saturday and Sunday compared to 33 a year earlier.
For the year, 1,922 hunters stopped at Lavina, compared to 1,681 in 2012 and a long-term average of 2,318. This year, 19 percent of the hunters who stopped at Lavina had game compared to 24 percent last year and a long-term average of 33 percent.
At the Laurel check station, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked just 174 hunters over the weekend, well below the 232 who stopped during the same weekend in 2012. Hunter success was limited, too, with 27 percent of hunters taking home an animal, compared to 36 percent last year.
For the season, 706 hunters stopped at Laurel. That is 43 fewer than 2012 and 143 fewer than the long-term average. Hunter success was even with last year – with 29 percent of hunters bringing home game – but well behind the long-term average of 37 percent.
This year’s white-tailed deer harvest was the lowest since 1999 at the Laurel check station. The mule deer harvest was similar to the past two years, but still below the long-term average.
The five-week general deer and elk season ended Sunday evening.
(Report by Montana FWP)