Deer and elk harvest numbers are up at the end of the first week of the 2019 big game general hunting season, compared with the same time period last year, according to data from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) check stations in west-central Montana.
The region’s three hunter check stations saw 146 elk, 22 mule deer, and 113 white-tailed deer compared to 106 elk, 27 mule deer and 83 whitetails at this point last year.
The Darby station shows the biggest bump in elk harvest, where FWP checked 106 elk in the first two weekends of the season, compared to 70 in 2018. Elk harvest at the station is not only ahead of last year but the highest since 2013—the last year that Darby Check Station was operated daily instead of only on weekends—and the whitetail harvest so far is the highest in the past three years. Hunter numbers through Darby are the highest since 2014.
At Bonner, FWP checked 1,848 hunters with 22 elk, 81 white-tailed deer, 8 mule deer and 2 black bears in the season’s first week. The elk harvest reported at Bonner is down so far this year, but whitetail harvest is up slightly from this time last year. Overall, the percentage of hunters with game through Bonner is down slightly this season.
At Anaconda, FWP checked 474 hunters, 18 elk, 14 white-tailed deer and 5 mule deer, which is on par with 2017. FWP did not operate Anaconda Check Station in 2018.
“Weather is always a big factor in big game harvest, especially early in the season” said Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 Wildlife Manager. “And this year the early snow and cold we’ve seen has pushed elk into lower elevation areas, bumping harvest success in some spots.”
Check stations only sample a small portion of hunter participation and harvests across the region, but they are an important part of monitoring trends and recording information on wildlife age, health and other observations from the field. Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals.
The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Dec. 1.