BILLINGS — Windy, cold weather over the weekend kept many south central Montana hunter home and limited the success of those who went to the field.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologists who operated three south central Montana check stations reported fewer hunters and a lower percentage of sportsmen with game than the same weekend in 2013. Winds of more than 40 miles per hour and temperatures that struggled to top 40 degrees kept deer in hiding and made hunting uncomfortable throughout the region.
At Big Timber, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that the deer harvest was lower than last year. That drove the percentage of sportsmen with game down to 39 percent, the lowest on record and well below the 53 percent for the fifth weekend of the 2013 general big-game season. Paugh checked 107 hunters with 11 white-tailed deer over the weekend, compared to 92 hunters with 20 white-tailed deer in 2013. The mule deer harvest was identical to last year at 23. Hunters checked eight elk – two better than the same weekend in 2013.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported that the number of deer checked at Columbus was well below the same weekend last year. The number of hunters also was down from 2013 and a smaller percentage of sportsmen had animals to check.
Stewart checked 200 hunters Saturday and Sunday – down from 211 on the same weekend in 2013. Those hunters checked 27 white-tailed deer and 27 mule deer – down from 50 white-tailed deer and 34 mule deer last year. The elk harvest continued a strong showing with six elk checked – double last year’s statistic. Just 30 percent of those who stopped at Columbus had game – down from 45 percent on the fifth weekend of 2013.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor reported that the number of hunters who stopped at Lavina was below the same weekend in 2013, but the deer harvest remained strong. She checked 185 hunters compared to 227 on the same weekend last year. They had 16 white-tailed deer – identical to last year’s statistic – and 24 mule deer – up from 20 on the same weekend in 2013. The percentage of hunters with game was 25 percent for the weekend, up a point from the same weekend last year.
For the year so far, FWP has checked 3,158 hunters at Lavina, Big Timber and Columbus – down five percentage points from the long-term average. Hunters have checked 203 white-tailed deer, just 51 percent of the long-term average. They reported 370 mule deer – 57 percent of average. The elk harvest remains strong with 178 elk checked, up 66 percentage points from the long-term average.
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.