Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Havre hunter check station was fairly active over the weekend (Oct. 21-22) of general deer and elk opener, with an increase of hunters checked compared to last year. Oct. 21-22 was the third weekend that the check station has been open, as the station began collecting data Oct. 7-8, corresponding with the opening weekend of pheasant and general antelope.
Hunters had to hang on to their hats, as weather conditions over the opening weekend were windy on Saturday and very windy on Sunday. There were 253 hunters in 127 parties checked, which was up 6% from 2016.
However, over the three weeks the check station has been open, overall hunter numbers are down 10% from last year and are 3% below the long-term average.
“Muddy, wet weather conditions the first weekend the check station opened may have contributed to the reduction in hunters,” said Havre-are biologist Scott Hemmer, who manages the check station. “But the lower upland bird populations and corresponding bird hunter participation are also a probable cause of the lower hunter numbers.”
Mule deer harvest during the weekend increased from last year, with 65 bucks and 18 does brought through. The long-term average during opening weekend is 55 mule deer. Mule deer populations have rebounded in most areas, which was reflected in the increased harvest, and hunters have consistently indicated they are seeing more deer.
Mule deer harvest to date is up 57% from last year and 36% above the long-term average.
“The largest increase we have seen in big game harvest this year is mule deer,” said Hemmer. “This increase is likely the result of increasing mule deer populations throughout most of the Region and increases in mule deer B-license quotas.”
White-tailed deer harvest over the weekend was slightly down from last year, with six males and seven females brought in, and slightly below the long-term average of 15. For the year, 17 white-tails have been brought by the check station, which is 6% less than last year, and 10% less than the long-term average.
Antelope harvest was up from last year, with 18 bucks and three does checked in, and 72 antelope have been checked in since general antelope season opened. This has been a 9% decrease from 2016, and still 72% below long-term average. Antelope hunters have reported seeing a slight increase in antelope numbers compared to the last few years.
Elk harvest during the weekend was up slightly from last year, as seven cow elk, one bull, and two calves were brought by the check station. This was just above the long-term average of seven elk.
For the first three weeks that the check station has been open, the pheasant harvest of 318 birds is below last year (-34%) and the long-term average (-47%). Sharp-tailed grouse harvest of 34 birds and Hungarian partridge harvest of 20 birds were both down from last year and below the long-term average.
“The extreme drought conditions this year appear to have affected upland bird brood survival, which can be seen in the lower percentage of juvenile birds in the harvest,” said Hemmer. “Some bird hunters have still reported seeing good bird numbers in areas with good habitat, but overall hunter success has been lower this year.”
Please remember that all hunters are required by law to stop as directed at all designated check stations on their way to and from hunting, even if they have no game to be checked.