Region 5 – Deer harvest picks up on second weekend in south central Montana
By Kamp Cook

Posted: November 2, 2015

BILLINGS — Weekend hunter numbers were relatively flat from last year at south central Montana check stations. But Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists noted an increase in the number of harvested animals, particularly deer.
FWP operated four check stations in south central Montana and checked 581 hunters during the second weekend of the state’s general rifle hunting season. They checked 31 white-tailed deer and 92 mule deer, both increases from the same weekend in 2014. The elk harvest cooled some with 28 animals checked – down six from a year ago.
Here are some details from the check stations:
BIG TIMBER
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station Sunday was identical to the same day last year, but the number of deer and elk checked was up sharply over 2014. Of the hunters who stopped, 60 percent had harvested game, up from 28 percent on the same date in 2014 and ahead of the long-term average of 51.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked nine white-tailed deer, up from four in 2014 but well off of the average of 19. Hunters checked 27 mule deer, up sharply from 11 last year and similar to a long-term average of 26. The elk harvest remained strong for the second weekend of the general big game season with 11 animals checked – up from eight last year, which also is the long-term average. Hunters continue to bring antelope to the Big Timber check station with 15 checked Sunday – up from six during the same weekend in 2014, but below the long-term average of 21.
For the year to date, 386 hunters have stopped at Big Timber, up from 357 last year and the long-term average of 347. Though the white-tailed deer harvest of 26 animals year-to-date was 10 better than 2014, it remained well below the average of 38. So far this year hunters have checked 60 mule deer, up from 46 during the same day in 2014 and ahead of the long-term average of 53. The elk harvest remains strong with 33 animals checked at Big Timber, up from 18 last year and double the long-term average.
 
LAVINA
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Lavina check station Sunday was identical to the same day in 2014, but the number of deer checked was up sharply from last year. Of the 199 hunters who stopped, 17 percent had harvested game – up from 11 percent a year ago. The elk harvest dropped off to six animals checked, compared with nine last year.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor said that, over the first two weekends of the 2015 general hunting season, 733 hunters have stopped at Lavina, up from 695 a year ago and well above the long-term average of 674. So far, hunters have checked just 13 white-tailed deer this year – just 25 percent of the long-term average of 52 for the first two weekends of the year.
The mule deer harvest has fared somewhat better so far this year with 64 animals checked compared with just 25 during the first two weekends of 2014, but blow the long-term average of 78. Of the mule deer checked, 61 were bucks – the most seen at Lavina since 2003.
After getting a fast start on opening weekend, the elk harvest measured at Lavina has settled in to near average at 27 animals, compared to 46 in 2014 and a long average of 25.
 
COLUMBUS
The number of hunter who stopped at FWP’s Columbus check station over the weekend was lower than during the same weekend last year. And they had fewer deer and elk than in 2014.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 157 hunters on Saturday and Sunday. That is down from 190 during the same weekend in 2014. Of those who stopped, 30 percent had harvested game compared to 33 percent last year. Hunters checked 11 white-tailed deer, down from 16 last year, and 26 mule deer, down just two from the same weekend in 2014. After starting strong on the opening weekend, the elk harvest dropped off with 9 animals checked compared with 16 a year ago.
For the year to date, 369 hunters have checked in at the Columbus station, down from 425 in 2014 and a long-term average of 386. Hunters have checked 23 white-tailed deer – the lowest number since 2005 – down from 33 in 2014 and just and just half of the long-term average. Stewart checked 54 mule deer – up from 49 last year but 36 percent below the long-term average of 85
The year-to-date elk harvest measured at Columbus remains strong this year with 27 animals checked, the same as last year and well above the long-term average of 11. Stewart said elk harvest success is largely attributable to liberal antlerless hunting opportunities, though most elk in the area remain on private land where access is difficult
 
LAUREL
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Laurel check station over the weekend was 69 percent bigger than the same weekend in 2014. The number of deer and elk checked also was higher than a year ago as was the percentage of hunter who had harvested game.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 121 hunters at Laurel during the second weekend of Montana’s general big game season. That compares to 84 during the same time in 2014. The hunters checked six white-tailed deer – up from four a year ago – and 20 mule deer – up from seven in 2014. Three elk came through the check station compared to one last year. Of those who stopped, 26 percent of hunters had game compared to 18 percent in 2014.
For both weekends of the 2015 season, 244 hunters stopped at Laurel – 27 more than the same two weekends last year. Those hunters checked 15 white-tailed deer – five more than 2014, but well below the long-term average of 39. They checked 38 mule deer – more than the 23 checked in 2014, but well below the average of 85.  The elk harvest remained good with eight animals checked – two more than last year and the most seen in the opening two weekends at Laurel since 2005. The station averages six elk for the first two weekends of each year.
 
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.
 
Here are some of this past weekend’s details from each check station:
 
 
WHITE-
 
 
 
%
 
NUMBER
TAILED
*MULE
 
 
HUNTERS
STATION
HUNTERS
DEER
DEER
*ANTELOPE
*ELK
WITH GAME
Laurel
(84)
121
(4)
6
(7)
20
(2)
2
(1)
3
(18)
26
Lavina
(199)
199
(3)
5
(9)
19
(0)
4
(9)
6
(11)
17
Big Timber
(104)
104
(4)
9
(11)
27
(6)
15
(8)
11
(28)
60
Columbus
(190)
157
(16)
11
(28)
26
(1)
1
(16)
9
(33)
30
(numbers in parentheses are from the second weekend in 2014)