BILLINGS — Weather conditions in south central Montana did not seem to limit the number of hunters who went to the field or the number of animals harvested during the third weekend of the 2014 general big game season.
Despite wind and falling temperatures in many locations, the number of hunters and harvested animals were about what were expected. And many hunters who stopped at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations mentioned that rutting activity among deer is picking up dramatically.
At the Big Timber check station, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that hunter numbers were the highest since 2009 and near the long term average. The number of hunters who had harvested game was only 36 percent, however, matching the record low set in 2010.
The 156 hunters who stopped at Big Timber over the weekend had harvested seven white-tailed deer, 25 mule deer, 14 antelope and nine elk. During the same weekend last year, 142 hunters checked 15 white-tailed deer, 30 mule deer, three antelope and five elk.
For the first three weekends of the season, hunter numbers at Big Timber are running near long term average. Harvest numbers for white-tailed deer, mule deer and antelope are below average. The elk harvest is running above average but still lagging behind the previous two year.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer checked 341 hunters over the weekend, up steeply from 271 last year. Sixteen percent of hunters had harvested game, identical to last year’s statistic for the same weekend.
During the weekend hunters brought in six white-tailed deer, 29 mule deer, three antelope and 15 elk. During the same weekend in 2013 hunters checked 11white-tailed deer, 25 mule deer, two antelope and six elk .
Through the third weekend of the season, FWP has checked 1,036 big game hunters at Lavina. That is eight percent above the long-term average and the most hunters since 2004. The percentage of hunters with game was 16 percent, well below the average of 30 percent.
Through the first three weekends, harvest of mule deer is 56 percent below average, white-tailed deer are 82 percent below average and antelope are 84 percent below average. The elk harvest, however, is 79 percent above the long-term average, with 35 bulls and 26 antlerless elk checked in the first three weekends.
At the Columbus check station, FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked only 175 hunters, down 20 percent from the same weekend last year. Twelve white-tailed deer were checked representing a decline of 57 percent from the third weekend in 2013. Stewart checked 35 mule deer, down 12 percent from the previous year. Three elk were also checked – similar to last year’s harvest.
For the 2014 season so far, 600 hunters have checked in at Columbus. That is 14 percent below last year, but slightly above the long term average. Only 45 white-tailed deer have been checked to date – down 41 percent from last year and 35 percent below the long term average harvest. Mule deer harvest to date running 10 percent below last year and 40 percent below the long term average. Elk harvest through the third weekend is identical to last year’s record harvest and 131 percent above the long term average.
At the Laurel check station, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 182 hunters over the weekend with seven white-tailed deer, 28 mule deer and one elk. During the same weekend last year, Watson checked 198 hunters who had harvested 10 white-tailed deer, 27 mule deer and three elk. The percentage of hunters with game was 20 percent, down five points from the same weekend in 2013.
For the year so far, check station statistics show that the number of hunters as well as the deer harvest are at all-time lows.
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)