Hunters in west-central Montana enjoyed a harvest success above last year on the opening weekend of the big game general hunting season.
An increase in harvest in the Blackfoot accounted for most of the bump. At the Bonner hunter check station, 1,378 hunters checked 21 elk, 14 mule deer and 56 white-tailed deer. Hunter trips through Bonner were higher than any opening weekend since 2010.
In total, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) biologists and student volunteers from the University of Montana checked 212 harvested animals across check stations at their traditional locations near Anaconda, Bonner and Darby, which was up from 183 and 171 in the past two years of opening weekends, and on par with the five-year average of 214 elk, deer and other big game.
Elk harvest at the three stations combined was an even 100, compared with 88 and 98 the past two years. White-tailed deer harvest reached 76, the highest since hunters checked 82 in 2010. Mule deer continued to comprise a small proportion of the big game harvest, but represented an increase to 29 harvested animals, up from 18 in each of the past two seasons. Five black bear, one moose and one bighorn ewe rounded out the harvest checked.
Tallies through the Darby check station were remarkably similar to last year’s counts. FWP checked 1,050 hunters, 63 elk, 14 white-tailed deer and 10 mule deer, compared with 1,077 hunters, 62 elk, 24 white-tailed deer and 10 mule deer last year. Elk harvests at Darby in the opening weekend fluctuate with elk harvest success in Big Hole hunting districts, which contributed to higher elk tallies in 2010 and 2011, according to FWP.
Hunter participation sampled at Anaconda was below average at 436 hunters, down from 483 last year. The elk harvest of 16 was close to the 17 checked last year. Deer are a small component of the harvest checked at Anaconda, but the harvest of six white-tailed deer and five mule deer was higher than recent years.
FWP biologist, Liz Bradley, operated a check station at Fish Creek and checked 182 hunters on opening weekend, down from the average of 204 hunters checked in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. The harvest of two white-tailed deer and two mule deer was on par with expectations.
Hunters are reminded that they must stop at all check stations that they pass on their way to or from hunting—even if they have not harvested any animals. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Nov. 29.