GREAT FALLS – Final numbers from the 2020 general deer and elk season on a portion of the Rocky Mountain Front put mule deer and elk taken by hunters lower than long-term averages, said a Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife biologist.
“The mule deer harvest was 22 percent below the 10-year average and 36 percent below the 20-year average,” said Brent Lonner, FWP wildlife biologist. “Elk harvest was 44 percent below the 10-year average and 37 percent below the 20-year average.”
The numbers were collected at the Augusta check station – FWP Region 4’s sole biological check station – and apply only to a handful of hunting districts on the Rocky Mountain Front.
Whitetails taken by hunters, however, were consistently above average all season. Overall harvest was the highest for at least the last 25 years, Lonner said.
“Antlerless white-tailed deer harvest was 53 percent above the 10-year average,” Lonner said. “With about half the total whitetail harvest coming the last two weeks of the season.”
The majority of whitetail harvest came from hunting districts 425, 442 and 444.
Hunter numbers were down: 2,901 hunters stopped at FWP’s Augusta check station this year. That’s a drop of 22 percent from the 10-year average, and 16 percent below the 20-year average.
Lonner said weather was probably a factor: “Weather this season gave way to both extremes with two early winter blizzards and mild and windy weather in between and to end the season.”
Like whitetails, the majority of mule deer harvest occurred the last two weeks of the season, about the same time as the peak of the deer breeding season.
Most of the mule deer harvest came from HDs 422, 425 and 442.
Elk hunters this year brought in 181 animals (80 bulls, 81 cows and 20 calves) compared to the 10-year average of 325 elk.
Mule deer numbered 176 bucks, 22 does and one fawn for a total of 199. The 10-year average is 254.
With whitetails, the count in Augusta was 367 (185 bucks, 150 does and 32 fawns), while the 10-year average is 305.
Looking at individual elk hunting districts, HD 442, which had a quota of 50 brow-tined or antlerless elk, finished at 62 elk harvested (27 bulls, 25 cows, 10 calves), compared to 86 last year and 93 the year before. The quota was closed on Nov. 13.
Hunting district 424 had a quota of 10 elk and finished at 15 (14 bulls and one cow) and was closed on Nov. 10. Total Sun River elk harvest (HDs 424, 425 and 442) amounted to 125 elk (46 bulls, 60 cows and 19 calves).
A total of 43 antlerless elk were checked out of HD 425 (Sun River Wildlife Management Area and adjacent lands). All five of HD 425 either-sex elk licenses were filled.
By the end of the season on Nov. 29, it was estimated there were nearly 1,000 elk on the Sun River WMA.
In HD 422, elk harvest was 36 percent below the 10-year average with a total of 55 elk checked (34 bulls, 20 cows, one calf).
The Rocky Mountain Front is also popular with bighorn sheep hunters, who took rams to fill all 10 either-sex licenses in sheep hunting districts 421, 422, 423 and 424. Average age (horn growth rings) of the 10 rams taken was 10.1 years old, which is considerably higher than the minimum average age (7.5 years) FWP tries to maintain for hunter harvested rams, Lonner said.
“More than any other year in recent times,” Lonner said. “recognition needs to go to check station technicians: Houston Thompson, Ali Morgan, Laurie Stone and Kerry Bouchard. Their efforts in helping collect biological data and be a key local source of information for hunters was certainly appreciated, especially with this year’s COVID-19 precautions. It certainly made for a different season, and the crew’s ability to adapt was appreciated.”