Mud, snow and cold temps impair hunter success over general season opener
By angelamontana

Posted: October 25, 2022

Number of big game hunters variable across south-central Montana

BILLINGS – Hunters had to dig out warm layers and rain jackets in a hurry, as the opening weekend of the big game general season was met with the first round of cold, wet weather this fall in south-central Montana. Just days before, youth hunters enjoyed unseasonably warm weather for the two-day youth-only deer hunt Oct. 20 and 21. The chilly weather, however, did not stop the hunt for many, but did affect success rates.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife staff members ran biological check stations in Big Timber, Columbus, Lavina and Billings. A total of 1,212 big game hunters visited check stations across south-central Montana over the opening weekend. Lavina was the busiest check station in the region over the weekend, with a record 551 hunters.

Overall, hunter success rates were lower than long-term averages across the region. Other hunters cut excursions short due to the cold, wet weather, and hazardous road conditions.

“Many hunters complained of mud, snow, poor visibility, and winds hampering their success,” said FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh.

Total harvested whitetail and mule deer were below long-term averages across the region, but elk harvest was up at every check station except Billings. New regulations and hunting district boundaries impacted elk hunting opportunities in districts 575, 580 and new district 515. These districts now allow the taking of either-sex elk.

License sales to apprentice and first-time youth hunters were up at the regional office in Billings prior to the opener.

“We had several youth hunters with their first deer or antelope, all eager to share their success stories,” Paugh said of the Big Timber check station.

Check stations will only be open on Sundays in Big Timber, Columbus, Lavina and Billings until the final weekend of the general season, when the stations will operate on both Saturday and Sunday. The final day of the general season is Nov. 27. Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, regardless of their success in harvesting game. Check stations provide valuable information on animals and hunters for FWP biologists.

FWP staff will also be available at each check station to sample harvested deer and elk for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Animals can also be tested at the regional office in Billings, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Testing for CWD is voluntary and free for the public. More information on CWD in Montana is available here: https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/chronic-wasting-disease

Hunting regulations for deer, elk and antelope are available at Region 5 headquarters in Billings, or online at: https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/hunt/regulations/2022/2022-dea-regulations-final-for-web.pdf

The table below summarizes data from Region 5 check stations over opening weekends from 2017 to 2022.

Region 5 Check Station Results, Opening Weekend 2017—2022.

No Region 5 check stations operated in 2020 due to pandemic.

Year

Hunters

Whitetail deer

Mule deer

Antelope

Elk

% Success

Big Timber

2022

250

22

20

23

28

37

2021

213

21

42

11

23

45

2019

268

32

28

16

17

35

2018

343

37

47

32

28

42

2017

357

26

62

47

37

49

Columbus

2022

129

12

12

0

10

26

2021

81

16

14

1

5

44

2019

110

7

9

2

9

24

2018

192

23

22

7

5

30

2017

167

12

32

0

11

33

Lavina

2022

551

15

21

2

21

11

2021

458

12

37

5

14

15

2019

381

13

13

9

24

15

2018

396

7

29

9

26

18

2017

437

9

32

6

33

18

Billings

2022

282

5

20

10

8

16

2021

337

14

49

15

27

32

2019

434

16

57

4

38

26

2018

241

6

36

9

17

30

2017

357

3

72

13

27

33

-fwp-