By angelamontana

Posted: December 4, 2023

GREAT FALLS – Although the number of hunters passing through FWP’s Augusta check station in 2023 increased from levels seen in 2022, they still reflect a decline of about 25 percent from the long-term average. The number of big game animals checked at the station was also lower for the 2023 season, with a total of 741 deer and elk checked, a 7 percent decline from the 10-year average of 796 animals. Despite the lower numbers, overall harvest success rates were strong with approximately 29 percent of hunters stopping at the check station successfully harvesting big game.

The traditional five-week general rifle season started off with snow and cold helping to produce strong harvest levels, but the middle and late weeks of the season were characterized by milder temperatures and dry weather leading to a decline in hunter success. Annual weather patterns, big game distribution, access and hunter effort also have a heavy influence on hunter harvest success.

Elk harvest success was generally best during the early weeks of the season due to weather conditions, and the total elk harvest of 196 animals was approximately 24 percent and 32 percent below the 10- and 20-year averages, but still represents an increase over harvest levels of the last three years. Antlered elk comprised approximately 45 percent of the harvest total. Some initial movement of migratory Sun River elk did arrive on the Sun River Wildlife Management Area early in the season, although movement waned as weather moderated. It was estimated that less than half the Sun River herd was present in Hunting District 425 by the end of the season.

Mule deer harvest was the highest since 2018 with 216 deer checked, although it remained 27 percent below long-term average. Like recent years, a high percentage of the mule deer harvest consists of antlered bucks with this year’s buck harvest comprising 82 percent of the total harvest. Hunter harvest on mule deer started off reasonably good, then slowed during the middle part of the season and picked up again toward the end of November as deer-rutting activity increased.

For much of the season, white-tailed deer harvest trended toward average levels. However, toward the latter part of the season, harvest increased and finished approximately 8 percent below the 10- and 20-year averages, and approximately 18 percent higher than last year. Bucks comprised 60 percent of the 312 white-tailed deer brought to the check station.

All the moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat hunters along the Rocky Mountain Front were successful in harvesting an animal this fall. For the southern Rocky Mountain Front (bighorn sheep HDs 421-424), average age as determined by horn growth rings of the eight rams harvested was 8 years old.

Only one black bear was checked at the check station, but a total of 26 have been harvested from the area by the end of the season. One wolf was brought to the check station, but a total of seven have been checked in wolf management unit 400 area this season. There were an additional seven antelope and various game birds brought to the check station throughout the season.

FWP wildlife staff thank check-station technicians Kerry Bouchard, Devon Rauscher, Bob Shultz and Tim Miller for all their help operating the check station. Their efforts in helping collect biological data, attention to detail and continued effort to be a key local source of information for hunters are invaluable. Thanks also to area game wardens for their assistance and presence patrolling and responding to calls in the greater Augusta area.


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