BILLINGS — Warm, breezy weather throughout south central Montana made for comfortable hunting conditions for the opening weekend of the 2016 antelope season. That brought out more hunters than the same weekend last year and resulted in a larger antelope harvest.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks ran three check stations in south central Montana Saturday and Sunday, collecting biological and hunter data at Broadview, Billings and Big Timber.
The three check stations counted 676 hunters compared to 643 during the same weekend in 2015. Those hunters had 331 antelope, a change from 254 at year earlier. And 46 percent of hunters who stopped had game, up from 39 percent during the same weekend last year.
At the Big Timber check station, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh saw a lot of 1.5-year-old antelope, indicating two good years of fawn production and survival. He also saw a high percentage of 2.5-year-old antelope, a dramatic shift from years before the current population dip, when the count was dominated by antelope that were 3.5 years old or older.
At Broadview, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor reported that 75 percent of the animals she saw were 1.5 years old. And 24 percent of the checked antelope were does or fawns. Hunters reported seeing more antelope and more fawns in herds this year compared to the past few years.
At Billings, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson said about two thirds of big-game hunters who stopped were pursuing antelope while the rest were hunting elk in the Bull Mountains or Missouri Breaks. He also talked to 29 upland game bird and waterfowl hunters.
Most of the antelope bucks checked at Billings had horns measuring at least 13 inches with several longer than 14 and two nice 15-inchers. Bird hunters found good numbers of pheasants but other species were harder to come by.
Here are some details on checked hunters from this past weekend:
(via MT FWP)