BILLINGS — The number of hunters who stopped at south central Montana check stations – and the percentage of hunters with animals – generally were very low during the second weekend of the 2014 general big game season.
At the Big Timber check station, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said the number of hunters checked and the percentage of hunters with game were the lowest on record for the second weekend of the general big-game season. He checked just 104 hunters on Saturday andSunday – down 43 from 2013 and 45 from the 10-year average. Just 28 percent of hunters had harvested game, compared to 30 percent during the same weekend last year and a long-term average of 53.3 percent.
Paugh checked four white-tailed deer – them same as the second weekend in 2013 but only 20 percent of the long-term average. Eleven mule deer were checked – down from 16 last year and a long-term average of 27. Eight elk were checked, which is close to average but six fewer than the same weekend in 2013.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson reported that the number of hunters who stopped at the Laurel check station and the percentage of hunters with animals were very low for the second weekend of the general season. Just 84 hunters stopped at Laurel Saturday and Sunday – half of last year’s numbers. Of those, 18 percent had harvested game compared to 34 percent in 2013. Four white-tailed deer – compared to 27 last year – and seven mule deer – compared to 28 last year – were checked.
Low numbers were due to a combination of factors, including warm weather, a reduced opportunity to shoot antlerless deer and last year’s outbreak of fatal epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, Watson said. On the bright side, hunters said that, in some areas, they are seeing more mule deer does and fawns than in previous years.
At Columbus, FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 190 hunters over the weekend – down 36 from the same weekend in 2013 and well below the long-term average. For the first two weekends of the year, hunter numbers are 11 percent above the long-term average at Columbus. Of those who stopped, 33 percent had harvested game – up from 27 percent last year.
Hunters checked 16 white-tailed deer at Columbus – down three from 2013 – and 28 mule deer – two fewer than the same weekend last year. The eight elk checked were double last year’s number and triple the long-term average, Stewart said. He attributed the elk harvest to liberalized antlerless elk opportunities, though most elk remain on private property, where access is difficult.
At Lavina, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 199 hunters over the weekend – down from 242 last year. Just 11 percent of hunters had harvested an animal, down from 17 percent the same weekend last year. Taylor checked three white-tailed deer – down from 10 in 2013 – and nine mule deer – down from 21 last year. Nine elk came through the check station, the same as the second weekend of the 2013 big-game season.
For the first two weeks of the season at FWP’s four south central Montana check station, 1,694 hunters have stopped with 66 white-tailed deer, 143 mule deer and 97 elk.
Montana’s five-week general big-game season runs through Nov. 30. Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.
(Report by Montana FWP)