BILLINGS — Warm temperatures and manageable winds made for comfortable hunting but tough tracking conditions during this past weekend, the final two days of Montana’s 2017 general big-game hunting season. The result, measured at five Fish, Wildlife and Parks south central Montana check stations, generally was fewer hunters than last year and mixed success for hunters.
Here are some statistics and details – for the weekend and the entire five-week season –gathered at FWP’s check stations:
The number of hunters who stopped as well as the deer and elk harvest measured at FWP’s Columbus check station all were up from the same weekend in 2016.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 185 hunters over the final weekend of the 2017 season. That was up 10 from the same weekend in 2016, but still well below the long-term average of 221. Hunters checked 46 white-tailed deer, up from 31 during the closing weekend of 2016 and up two from the long-term average. Hunters checked 36 mule deer, up 10 from a year ago but well below the long-term average of 60. The elk harvest continued its encouraging showing with six checked over the weekend, up one from the same time a year ago and up two from the long-term average.
For the entire 2017 season at Columbus, Stewart checked 1,007 hunters, down 9 percent from a year ago and 18 percent from the long-term average of 1,223. Hunters checked 184 white-tailed deer at Columbus during the season, up from 141 a year ago and a long-term average of 178. Overall, 42 percent of hunter who stopped at Columbus had harvested game, which is identical to the long-term average.
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station over the weekend was down from last year and from the long-term average. While the number of checked deer and elk was up from the same weekend in 2016, all were below the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 203 hunters over the final weekend of the 2017 season, down from 229 last year and a long-term average of 232. Hunters checked 39 white-tailed deer, down just one from last year but well below the long-term average of 54. The mule deer count fared slightly better with 57 checked over the weekend, up three from 2016 and down only 3 from the long-term average. While the 15 elk checked at Big Timber were five more than last year, the count was one shy of the long-term average of 16.
For the entire 2017 general big-game season, 1,115 hunters stopped at Big Timber, up nine from a year ago and well ahead of the long-term average of 1,004. Hunters checked 121 white-tailed deer over the weekend, the same as last year but under the long-term average of 165. Hunters checked 254 mule deer during the year, up from 237 a year ago and a long-term average of 225. The elk harvest measured at Big Timber continues to be a bright spot with 99 animals checked during the 2017 season, up from 59 a year ago and a long-term average of 54.
The number of hunters as well as the deer harvest measured at FWP’s Lavina check station over the weekend was down from the same time in 2016 and well below the long-term average. The total 2017 deer harvest measured at Lavina was mixed with the elk harvest continuing to show strong numbers compared to last year.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor counted 351 hunters at Lavina over the final weekend of the season, down sharply from 412 during the same time in 2016 and the long-term average of 561. Hunters checked 34 white-tailed deer at Lavina, up four from a year ago but well below the long-term average of 63. They checked 72 mule deer, down two from the same time in 2016 and down from the long-term average of 94. While the 24 elk checked over the weekend were ahead of the 17 during the closing weekend in 2016, the number lagged behind the long-term average of 41.
For the entire 2017 season, the number of hunters as well as the reported deer harvest were well below last year and the long-term average. Taylor checked 1,571 hunters during the year, down from 1,867 in 2016 and a long-term average of 2,246. Hunters checked 84 white-tailed deer, down from 98 a year ago and a long-term average of 205. The mule deer harvest fared no better with 198 checked this year compared to 226 a year ago and a long-term average of 345. Elk continued to be a bright spot with 108 checked at Lavina in 2016, up from 77 a year ago and a long-term average of 105.
While the number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Laurel check station over the weekend was down from the same time in 2016, the deer harvest was up sharply. FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 162 hunters over the weekend, down from 176 a year ago. He checked 57 white-tailed deer, up from 38 in 2016, and 48 mule deer, up from 39 last year. Just one elk came through the Laurel check station over the weekend, down from two a year ago.
As a result, the percentage of hunters with game was up sharply to 65 percent from 45 percent last year.
During the eight days that the Laurel check station was open this year, the number of hunters who checked in and the number of mule deer and elk was well below 2016 totals and the long-term average. Watson checked 520 hunters this year, down from 547 for the year in 2016 and the long-term average of 779 hunters. Hunters who checked in had harvested 103 mule deer this year, down from 116 a year ago and a long-term average of 179. The mule deer count fared better with 96 checked this fall, up from 81 a year ago and identical to the long-term average. The six elk were three more than the 2016 season but three lower than the long-term average.
During the closing weekend of the 2017 general big-game season, 411 hunters stopped at FWP’s Billings Heights check station with 43 white-tailed deer, 142 mule deer and 17 elk. Of those who stopped, 49 percent had harvested game. FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly operated the Billings check station for the first time in 2017 so comparisons to previous years is not available.
During the entire 2017 season, O’Reilly checked 2,446 hunters with 145 white-tailed deer, 648 mule deer and 158 elk. With hunters also reporting 36 antelope, 40 percent of those who stopped at Billings Heights had harvested an animal.
Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.
This fall, FWP also is gathering tissue samples in south central Montana to test for the presence of chronic wasting disease, or CWD. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose. Biologists believe that early detection provides Montana with best chance of containing CWD.
Earlier this season, two samples collected south of Bridger tested positive for CWD. FWP is asking all hunters who harvest deer or elk in hunting districts 510 and 502 to call the FWP Region 5 headquarters during the week to have samples tested. More information on CWD is available online at http://fwp.mt.gov/cwd.
(via MT FWP)