R5: Weather great for antelope opener, but mud limits travel
By angelamontana

Posted: October 15, 2019

BILLINGS – The pronghorn antelope harvest measured by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was lower than last year at two of its three south central Montana check stations over the weekend. Many hunters reported that muddy roads limited their travel.

Despite mild, sunny and calm weather conditions, FWP wildlife biologists at check stations in Big Timber and Broadview saw fewer hunter than a year ago.

Billings was the exception for the opening weekend of the general antelope season with 162 hunters – 19 more than in 2018. Hunters checked 83 antelope compared to 67 a year ago and a 10-year average of 55.

FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly said the antelope checked at Billings were predominantly at least 4.5 years old. Two harsh winters followed by two wet springs in south central Montana likely limited the number of younger antelope on the landscape, she said.

At Big Timber, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh also reported that the bulk of the antelope he checked were at least 4.5 years old and that younger age classes were noticeably lacking in the harvest. He also noted that horn growth was poor this year, a likely result of winter and spring weather.

Paugh checked 300 hunters over the weekend – down from 323 a year ago. Those hunters had harvested 162 antelope – down from 188 in 2018 but near the long-term average of 163.

The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Broadview check station also was lower than a year ago – and they checked significantly fewer antelope than in 2018.

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 200 hunters, only about a third of whom had harvested an antelope – a total of 67 animals. Last year 218 hunters checked at Broadview had harvested 96 antelope. Over the course of the past 10 years, an average of 77 antelope have come through the Broadview check station. The long-term average, going back to 1991, is 157 antelope checked at Broadview on opening weekend. Taylor reported that 66 percent of the antelope she checked over the weekend were bucks.

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.

While the weekend check stations primarily were intended to check antelope, hunters also stopped with upland game birds and a number of elk and deer harvested by archery hunters. Here are statistics from the three south central Montana check stations.