R5: Hunter numbers, harvest generally lower in south central Montana
By angelamontana

Posted: November 30, 2021

2021 general big-game season comes to a close

BILLINGS – The 2021 general big-game hunting season ended with generally fewer hunters and animals harvested than in past years in south central Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists staffed check stations at four regional locations during six weekends of the season to gather information about hunters and scientific information about the game they harvested.

Weather played a part in the hunter and harvest numbers with warmth, wind and dry skies generally prevalent over the area for all five weeks of the season.

Check stations in south central Montana did not open during the 2020 season because of COVID-19 restrictions, so all comparisons are to the 2019 season and long-term averages.

Here are some details from FWP’s data-gathering efforts in the region:

Billings Heights

The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Billings Heights check station over the final weekend of the 2021 general big game season was up from the same weekend in 2019. But, for the entire season, fewer hunters stopped and they checked fewer animals than two years ago.

FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 1,244 hunters during the season, down from 1,438 during the 2019 season. She saw 79 white-tailed deer, down from 92 in 2019. Hunters checked 264 mule deer, down from 362 two years ago. Hunters had 66 elk, down from 88 in 2019. Of those who stopped, 33 percent had harvested game this year, down from 38 percent for the 2019 season.


FWP’s Lavina check station was the exception to general trends during the 2021 season in south central Montana. More hunters stopped at Lavina than two years ago. They checked more deer than in 2019. The elk harvest measured at Lavina was the lowest on record for the season, but the percentage of hunters with game stayed the same as in 2019.

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 1,624 hunters at Lavina during the season, up from 1,438 in 2019 but well below the long-term average of 1,923. Hunters had 98 white-tailed deer, up from 70 in 2019, and 184 mule deer, up from 148 two years ago. Just 71 elk were checked, down from 101 in 2019 and below the long-term average of 107. Of those who stopped, 22 percent had harvested game, the same as two years ago.

Big Timber

The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station, as well as the number of deer and elk they checked, was below 2019 and the long-term average.

FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh saw 675 hunters during the general rifle season, the fewest on record and well below the 914 who visited in 2019 and the long-term average of 1,012. He checked 117 white-tailed deer, off from 144 in 2019, and 151 mule deer, down from 181 two years ago. One bright spot was the number of elk checked – 58 this year compared to 55 in 2019 and a long-term average of 59.

Of those who stopped, 52 percent had harvested game, up from 45 percent in 2019 and an average of 50 percent.


At FWP’s Columbus check station, hunter numbers and the reported deer harvest were the lowest on record, while the elk harvest remained on pace with previous years.

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 546 hunters during the 2021 general big-game season, down from 676 in 2019 and less than half of the long-term average of 1,173. He checked 81 white-tailed deer, down 10 from 2019 and less than half of the long-term average of 172. Hunter checked 90 mule deer, down from 98 two years ago and far below the long-term average of 279. They brought in 23 elk, just one under 2019 and three below the long-term average. Of those who stopped at the check station, 36 percent had harvested game, down four percentage points from 2019 and an average of 41 percent for the season.

While the general big-game season closed Nov. 26, some hunters still may go to the field for a traditional muzzle loader hunt or antlerless elk shoulder seasons in some hunting districts. Hunter should check updated regulations online at http://fwp.mt.gov for details on the late hunts.



Here are some statistics from FWP’s general big-game check stations in south-central Montana:

South Central Montana – 2021 general season FWP check stations
Station Hunters W/T deer Mule deer Elk % hunters with game
Big Timber (914) 675 (144) 117 (181) 151 (55) 58 (45%) 52%
Lavina (1,438) 1,624 (70) 98 (148) 184 (101) 71 (22%) 22%
Billings Heights (1,438) 1,244 (92) 79 (362) 264 (88) 66 (38%) 33%
Columbus (676) 546 (91) 81 (98) 90 (24) 23 (32%) 36%
(numbers in parentheses are from 2019)
New Podcast!

Riley's Meats - Butte Wild Game Processing