Region 5 – Hunter numbers, mule deer harvest up in south central Montana
By Kamp Cook

Posted: November 17, 2015

Warm weather and at least one still day in south central Montana put more hunters in the field over the weekend than the same weekend last year. Many hunters reported that they are starting to see rutting activity in deer, which was borne out by more bucks that appeared in check stations.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists operated three check stations over the weekend – the fourth weekend of the 2015 general big-game season. Here are reports from those stations:

LAVINA
FWP biologists checked 228 hunters over the weekend at the department’s Lavina check station. That was up from 204 checked on the same weekend in 2014. The percent of hunters with harvested game was nearly identical to last year, however with 29 percent checking animals over the weekend compared to 28 percent in 2014.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor said warm temperatures and calm winds made for comfortable hunting, but limited daytime rutting activity, which normally works in hunters’ favor. Taylor checked 16 white-tailed deer over the weekend – the same as the fourth weekend of the season in 2014. But the mule deer harvest was up from 25 last year to 30 in 2015. The elk harvest remains strong with 21 animals checked at Lavina compared to 17 a year ago.
For the hunting season to date, 1,251 hunters have stopped at the Lavina check station, 10 more than the long-term average. Hunters have checked 70 elk at Lavina, up substantially from the long-term average of 47, but eight fewer than during the first four weeks of the 2014 season. The deer harvest remains below the long-term average with 38 white-tailed deer checked so far – well below the average of 95. The mule deer harvest also remained low with 129 animals checked so far compared to a long-term average of 165.

COLUMBUS
FWP biologists checked 240 hunters at the Columbus check station over the weekend, 31 more than the same weekend last year. Of those who stopped, 33 percent had harvested game, down five points from the same weekend in 2014 and six points from the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart said that, despite warm temperatures along the Beartooth Front, deer were starting to rut, leading to an increased harvest of bucks that were at least two years old. Hunters checked 31 white-tailed deer at Columbus, down from 35 during the same weekend in 2014. They checked 42 mule deer, up from just 31 a year ago.
For the year to date, 808 hunters have stopped at Columbus, down just one from the same four weekends a year ago and ahead of the long-term average of 780. The white-tailed deer harvest so far is 87 animals, up from 80 last year but below the long-term average of 96. Hunters have checked 128 mule deer, up from 115 a year ago but below the long-term average of 186. While the number of elk has dropped off to 39 this year compared to 43 a year ago, the harvest remains well ahead of the long-term average of 15.

BIG TIMBER
FWP biologists checked 141 hunters at the Columbus check station over the weekend – the highest in five years and 37 more than the same weekend last year. Of those who stopped, 48 percent had harvested game, down five points from the same weekend in 2014 and three points from the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said hunters checked 16 white-tailed deer at Big Timber, down just one from the same weekend in 2014. They checked 41 mule deer, up from 30 a year ago.
For the year to date, 661 hunters have stopped at Big Timber, up 44 from from the same four weekends a year ago and ahead of the long-term average of 630. The white-tailed deer harvest so far is 50 animals, up from 40 last year but below the long-term average of 84. Hunters have checked 113 mule deer, up from 102 a year ago but below the long-term average of 125. While the number of elk checked at Big Timber remains strong at 11 for the weekend – two more than the same weekend last year – the hear-to-date harvest of 71 remains well ahead of the long-term average of 27.
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.