R5: South central Montana hunter numbers down, harvest mixed
By angelamontana

Posted: November 19, 2018

BILLINGS – The weekend’s weather provided hunters with mixed opportunities in south central Montana over the weekend. Conditions varied from snowy to windy to cold depending on what part of the region a hunter visited. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks saw an overall decline from last year in numbers of hunters who stopped at its check stations and the number of harvested animals they reported.

Montana’s general big game season remains open in most places through Nov. 25.

Here is a breakdown of statistics from the four south central Montana check stations operated by FWP over the weekend:

 

COLUMBUS

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart said that, for hunters who have been waiting for cold and snow, this was the weekend to be afield. But a snow storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on the Beartooth face Friday afternoon, along with single-digit temperatures and terrible road conditions Saturday, kept many hunters home for the weekend. As a result the deer harvest in that part of south central Montana was well off of totals for the same weekend in 2017 and the long-term average. For the year to date, all hunter and harvest statistics reported at the Columbus check station continue to lag behind last year and the long-term average.

Over the weekend, 153 hunters stopped at the Columbus check station, down 29 from the same weekend a year ago. They checked 33 white-tailed deer – down from 44 in 2017 – and 28 mule deer – down from 43 on the same weekend a year ago. Hunters had harvested four elk, down from seven in 2017.

With the annual rut in full swing, Stewart reported that mature bucks accounted for most of the harvest for both deer species.

Of the hunters who stopped at Columbus, 43 percent had harvested an animal, down from 52 percent during the same weekend last year, but up slightly from the long-term average of 40 percent. For the year to date, 43 percent of hunters who stopped at the Columbus check station had harvested an animal, down from 52 percent a year ago and a long-term average of 49 percent

 

LAVINA

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 183 hunters at the Lavina check station over the weekend, the second smallest number on record and 12 percent fewer than the same weekend in 2017. But the harvest reported by hunters was similar to the same weekend last year for all three species. Hunters checked 19 white-tailed deer on Saturday and Sunday, up by five from the same weekend in 2017. They reported 22 mule deer, the same as in 2017, and 14 elk, up from eight during the same weekend a year ago.

For the year to date, the 1,140 hunters who have stopped at the Lavina check station is the fewest on record and well below the long-term average of 1,529. So far this year, hunters have checked 541 white-tailed deer – similar to last year but less than half of the long-term average of 118. The mule deer harvest of 105 animals so far is below the long-term average of 208, but elk numbers are higher than average with 84 animals checked, compared to an average of 62.

 

BILLINGS

FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly reported that statistics in all categories at FWP’s Billings Heights check station were down sharply from last year. She checked 341 hunters, well below 505 hunters who stopped during the same weekend in 2017. They had harvested 38 white-tailed deer – down from 60 a year ago – and 105 mule deer – down from 174 in 2017. Hunters checked 19 elk Saturday and Sunday, down from 28 during the same weekend in 2017.

Statistics are lower in all categories for the year to date at the Billings Heights check station. So far, 1,577 hunters have stopped, down from 2,035 during the first five weekend of the 2017 general big game season. Those hunters have harvested 74 white-tailed deer – down from 102 a year ago – and 319 mule deer – down from 506 in 2017. The elk harvest for the year to date was 99 animals compared to 141 last year.

 

BIG TIMBER

FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that the numbers of white-tailed deer and elk brought to the Big Timber check station were higher than the same weekend in 2017, but the mule deer harvest was down dramatically. Of those hunters who stopped over the weekend, 55 percent had harvested game, down three percentage points from the same weekend last year.

Paugh checked 128 hunters – the same number as the fifth weekend of the 2017 season. They had 27 white-tailed deer – up from 19 a year ago – and 11 elk. – up from eight in 2017. Hunters checked 32 mule deer, 15 fewer than the same weekend a year ago.

For the year to date, 888 hunters have stopped at the Big Timber check station, down 24 from the same time period last year but up more than 100 from the long-term average of 781.The white-tailed deer harvest so far is 110, identical to the long-term average and up by 22 animals from last year. Hunters have checked 138 mule deer, well below the 197 checked last year and a long-term average of 170. While the 70 elk reported at FWP’s Big Timber check station so below last year’s total of 84, it still is the third highest on record for the fifth weekend of the season and well ahead of the long-term average of 41.

 

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.

 

-FWP-


2018 check stations – fifth weekend (Nov. 17-18)
NUMBER OF WHITE-TAILED          % HUNTERS
STATION HUNTERS  DEER MULE DEER ELK WITH GAME
  2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018
Lavina 208 183 14 19 22 22 8 14 29 30
Big Timber 128 128 19 27 47 32 8 11 58 55
Columbus 182 153 44 33 43 28 7 4 52 43
Billings 505 341 60 38 174 105 28 19 52 48
TOTALS 1,023 805 137 117 286 187 51 48 46 44
2018 check stations – year to date
NUMBER OF WHITE-TAILED          % HUNTERS
STATION HUNTERS  DEER MULE DEER ELK WITH GAME
  2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018
Lavina 1,220 1,140 50 51 122 105 84 84 21 21
Big Timber 912 888 82 110 197 138 84 70 47 43
Columbus 822 769 183 101 155 127 41 22 41 34
Billings 2,035 1,577 102 74 506 319 141 99 39 33
TOTALS 4,989 4,374 417 336 980 689 350 275 35 30