BILLINGS — The number of hunters and the percentage of sportsmen who harvested animals remained strong over the weekend in south central Montana, despite challenging weather conditions.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists who operated three check stations in south central Montana Saturday and Sunday all reported that the percentage of hunters who had game was better than the same weekend last year and close to the long-term average for the fourth weekend of the general big-game season.
Hunters at all check stations reported seeing plenty of deer rutting activity, but that winds to 40 miles per hour made hunting difficult.
At Columbus, FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 209 hunters, down from 226 on the same weekend last year. Of the sportsmen checked, 38 percent had harvested game, up from 26 percent on the same weekend last year and only a point lower than the long-term average.
Stewart checked 35 white-tailed deer – up four from last year – and 31 mule deer, up from 25 in 2013. This was the first weekend of the season when the white-tailed deer harvest exceeded the mule deer harvest. The elk harvest remains strong with 13 animals checked over the weekend at Columbus, up from just two last year.
For the year so far, 809 hunters have stopped at Columbus – 13 percent below last year but ahead of the long-term average of 778. The mule deer and white-tailed deer harvest remains well below the long-term average, but the number of elk checked and the percentage of hunters with game are near average.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor saw 201 hunters Saturday and Sunday, down from 210 on the same weekend in 2013. She ckecked 16 white-tailed deer – down just one from last year – and 25 mule deer – down from 28 a year ago. The elk harvest remained strong with 17 animals checked compared to 14 last year. For the weekend, 28 percent of sportsmen who stopped at Lavina had game – up a point from 2013 and one point lower than the long-term average.
For the first four weekends of the 2014 season, hunter numbers at Lavina are nearly identical to the long-term average of 1,241. The white-tailed deer harvest is off by 71 percent, the mule deer harvest is down 53 percent and the percentage of hunters with game is just 16 percent – down from a long-term average of 29 percent. The elk harvest ramins strong, however, with 78 animals checked – up from an average of 46.
At the Big Timber check station, all statistics were higher than the same weekend in 2013. FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 104 hunters – up from 95 last year, but well below the long-term average of 142. Sportsmen checked 17 white-tailed deer – up from 10 last year – and 30 mule deer – up from 17 in 2013. Both deer statistics were well below the long-term average for the Big Timber check station. Elk remain a bright spot with nine checked over the weekend – compared to last year’s count and the long term average of six.
The percentage of hunters with game was 54 percent – up three points from the long-term average and well above last year’s 35 percent rate.
For the year to date, 617 hunters have stopped at Big Timber compared to an average of 631 for the first four weekends. The 40 white-tailed deer checked represent less than half of the average of 88 while the number of mule deer – 102 this year – is well below the average of 127. The elk harvest remains strong with 36 checked – 10 better than the average. The percentage of hunters with game is 37 percent so far this year – down from a long-term average of 50 percent.
Montana’s five-week general big-game season runs through Nov. 30. 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.
(Report by Montana FWP)