Hot temperatures on Saturday and high winds on Sunday made for difficult hunting conditions in south-central Montana during the opening weekend of the 2015 general antelope season.
As a result, the number of hunters in the field and antelope harvested were lower than the long-term average and, in some instances, lower than last year.
In Big Timber, Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists checked 246 hunters with 144 harvested antelope. Last year 322 hunters checked 155 antelope. Over the past 10 years, an average of 256 hunters have checked 157 antelope at Big Timber.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said hunters reported seeing more antelope in the field than in the past few years — particularly more 1.5-year-old animals, which indicates better fawn survival. Since disease moved through the area in 2008, fawn survival has been a concern and a critical factor in herd-size recovery.
In Broadview, FWP checked 205 hunters with 58 antelope. The number of animals harvested was identical to the past two years while hunter numbers were up from 196 in 2014. Over the past 25 years, an average of 253 hunters with 170 harvested antelope have stopped at FWP’s Broadview check station on the opening weekend of the rifle season.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor said 71 percent of the harvested antelope checked at Broadview were mature bucks — up from a long-term average of 63 percent.
Hunters who stopped at Broadview reported seeing more antelope, including more fawns, than in the past several years, Taylor said. The observations are an indication that herd sizes are stabilizing after seven years of declines.
In Billings, FWP checked 52 antelope from 105 antelope hunters. An additional 87 people who were hunting birds or other big game stopped by the station on the northeast end of Billings Heights. Last year 156 hunters stopped at Billings with 37 harvested antelope on the opening weekend of antelope rifle season.
The total of 192 hunters was 61 percent of the long-term average while the 52 antelope checked over the weekend constituted less than a third of average. Half of the hunters who said they were pursuing antelope harvested an animal. The number of harvested antelope was 40 percent more than last year’s and the most checked at Billings since 2010.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson said all but seven of the antelope he checked at Billings were mature bucks, mostly at least 4 years old. He said, however, that he is starting to see more 2- and 3-year-old antelope at the check station.
Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.