MISSOULA – Big game hunting season in west-central Montana got off to a good start over the weekend with steady hunter traffic through the region’s four hunter check stations and a harvest on track with last year’s opener.
Hunter traffic through the check stations was 35 percent higher than the first weekend in 2020. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) biologists tallied 2,340 hunters through the Anaconda, Bonner, Darby and Fish Creek check stations combined. Hunters checked 54 elk, 23 mule deer, 59 white-tailed deer and two black bears.
The elk harvest of 31 at the Darby Check Station was 39 percent lower than the 2020 opening weekend, due in part to rainy weather and a lack of snow in the upper elevations.
“In my experience, most elk hunters don’t do well in this weather,” said FWP Bitterroot biologist, Rebecca Mowry. “Elk have no reason to move and hunters have a tough time finding them and don’t spend as much time hiking in pursuit of elk in wet weather like this.”
While elk harvest was low overall, check station attendants saw an increase in deer harvest, with totals of 23 mule deer and 59 white-tailed deer across Western Montana.
All-in-all, hunter check stations sample a small portion of the effort and harvests across the region, but they do record important trends and biological information. “Check stations are the key way for us to see how harvest is shaping up compared to historical averages, and they are really important for gathering information on wildlife age, health and other observations from the field,” said Mike Thompson, FWP Region Missoula-based Wildlife Manager.
Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals. The general big game season runs through Sunday, Nov. 28.