Seasonal temperatures and generally dry skies drove up the number of hunters who took to the field in south-central Montana over the weekend. And those who stopped at check stations run by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks mostly were able to harvest more deer than during the same weekend in 2018.
The general big-game season kicked off Oct. 26, but wet, windy weather kept many hunters home. The second weekend of the season was more comfortable, and the region’s hunters responded by traveling to the countryside.
Here are some statistics from FWP’s five south central Montana check stations:
The number of hunters and the number of deer checked at FWP’s Big Timber check station Sunday were higher than in 2018 and above the long-term average for the second weekend of the general big-game season.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 147 hunters Sunday, 47 percent of whom had harvested an animal. During the same weekend last year 143 hunters stopped, 36 percent of whom had a harvested an animal. Historically an average of 138 hunters have stopped during the second weekend of the season and 49% have checked an animal.
This year, Paugh logged 22 white-tailed deer compared to 14 in 2018 and a long-term average of 17. Hunters checked 27 mule deer, up from 10 a year ago and a historic average of 25. Elk hunters checked 10 elk, down from 15 a year ago, but still above the average of nine.
The number of hunters and checked deer were up from last year at FWP’s Lavina check station, but they still fell short of the long-term averages.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 186 hunters at Lavina Sunday during the second weekend of the general big-game season. That was up from 153 a year ago, but still below the average of 227. Hunters brought in eight white-tailed deer — up from six in 2018 but below the average of 17. They checked 24 mule deer, well above the 10 during the same Sunday last year but below the average of 38. Ten elk came through the check station, down from 14 a year ago and near the long-term average of 11.
Of those hunters who stopped, 24% had harvested game — exactly the same as the long-term average and more than the 20% from 2018.
Taylor reported that several bucks she checked displayed evidence that the annual rut could be starting.
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Hunter numbers and the percentage of hunters with game were higher than in 2018 at FWP’s Laurel check station over the weekend.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 114 hunters at Laurel during the second weekend of Montana’s general big game season, up from 102 during the same time period last year. Of those who stopped, 31% had harvested an animal, up from 26% in 2018.
Hunters checked nine white-tailed deer, down from 11 a year ago. They had 24 mule deer, up from 14 in 2018. One hunter checked an elk — two checked elk last year.
Hunters brought only nine mule deer to FWP’s Columbus check station over the weekend — the lowest number since the department started keeping records and 76 percent below the long-term average. Last year 21 mule deer came through the Columbus check station on the second weekend of the general big-game season.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 110 hunters on Saturday and Sunday at Columbus. That is 10 more than last year, but still 70% below the long-term average of 176 for the weekend. The white-tailed deer harvest measured at Columbus was more encouraging with 21 animals checked, up from eight during the same weekend in 2018 and one more than the long-term average. Hunters checked three elk, down from four a year ago.
While many hunters reported seeing fewer deer this year, there appear to be localized areas where a significant number of deer can be found on private land, Stewart said.
FWP’s check station in Billings Heights operated just Sunday over the weekend compared to two days in previous years. Still, numbers of hunters and checked animals were comparable.
FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 204 hunters Sunday compared to 262 on Saturday and Sunday in 2018. Hunters checked eight white-tailed deer, the same as both days last year, and 50 mule deer, down just two from last year. They had 16 elk on Sunday, down four from the second weekend of the 2018 season. Of those who stopped, 34% had harvested game, up from 29% a year ago.
FWP’s check stations in south-central Montana will operate on weekends through the end of Montana’s general big-game season on Dec. 1. 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.