By angelamontana

Posted: November 21, 2023

MISSOULA –With less than a week of general hunting season left, west-central Montana hunters continue to find mild weather conditions and fewer elk than last season, while deer harvest totals are on track.

Elk hunters typically benefit from colder, snowier weather that pushes elk into lower elevation areas and makes tracking easier.  While hunters in 2022 found those conditions nearly all season long, mild conditions have persisted this fall.

This year, the hunter check stations near Darby, Bonner, Fish Creek, and Anaconda have recorded 211 elk, compared to 277 at this point in 2022.  This year’s elk harvest totals sit just under the five-year average.

Harvest for mule deer and white-tailed deer is almost identical to last season and just up from the five-year average. West-central Montana hunters have checked 97 mule deer this season, compared to 95 at this point in 2022. White-tailed deer hunters have passed through the station with 429 deer, compared to 421 last season.

“Those that I talked to over the past weekend commented that the rut is in full swing for white-tailed deer,” said Ryan Klimstra, FWP Missoula-area wildlife biologist in charge of the Fish Creek hunter check station west of Missoula. “That should continue to help boost success over the remainder of the season.”

Despite the mild hunting season weather, or perhaps because of it, hunter trips through the check stations are up from last year and the five-year average.

“It was busy at the Bonner check station over the weekend, and we broke the 100 animals checked benchmark for the first weekend this season,” said Mike Ebinger, FWP Blackfoot-area wildlife biologist.

The remaining days of the season are likely to bring another bump in activity and harvest as hunters work to take advantage of the end of the season and holiday weekend. The general big game season runs through Sunday, Nov. 26.

As the season wraps up, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, Montana hunters can thank landowners for access and share stories through a new online portal at fwp.mt.gov. FWP is offering this opportunity to say thank you to landowners who have provided access and helped to make your hunting season great. FWP will collect these expressions of gratitude and share them with the specific landowners at the end of the season. Notes can be submitted online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/thank-a-landowner.

Hunter wildlife check stations only sample a small portion of the hunter effort and harvests across the region, but they track important trends and biological information. Because the stations operate on the same days and hours each year, biologists are able to use check station data to see how harvest is shaping up compared to historical averages and to collect information on wildlife age, health, and other hunter observations from the field. Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals.


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