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Check station

Wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly pries open the mouth of a deer killed by Ethan Hart of Billings while checking the age of the animal on Oct. 27 in Billings.

South-central Montana check stations operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks saw hunter numbers and their harvest fall — to historic lows in some instances — for the final weekend of the 2019 general big game season. Those numbers dragged season-long statistics down at all five locations.

Wintery weather during at least three of the six weekends which bracket the five-week general season influenced some of the hunter participation and harvest numbers.

Here are details from the five check stations:

Final Region 5 totals

Columbus

The number of hunters who stopped was the lowest on record, as was the number of mule deer and white-tailed deer checked. The final weekend of the five-week general season punctuated the trend with the lowest number of hunters and mule deer on record and a white-tailed deer harvest that was 45% below average.

Over the weekend FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 82 hunters at Columbus, down from 170 during the same weekend in 2018 and well below the long-term average of 219. Hunters checked 24 white-tailed deer, down from 35 a year ago and an average of 44. They had harvested 12 mule deer, down from 28 in 2018 and just a fifth of the average of 60.

For the entire season Stewart checked 676 hunters down from 939 a year ago and a long-term average of 1,193. This year hunters checked just 91 white-tailed deer, down from 136 in 2018 and an average of 176. They had harvested 98 mule deer, down from 155 in 2018 and an average of 288.

The elk harvest measured at Columbus was the sole bright spot with 24 elk checked, down just three from a year ago and down two from the long-term average.

Lavina

The number of hunters who stopped on Saturday and Sunday was the lowest on record, which dragged the year-end statistics to a historic low, as well. The mule deer harvest measured at Lavina also was at a historic low both for the closing weekend and the whole season.

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 277 hunters during the final weekend of the season, down sharply from 408 hunters during the same weekend in 2018 and well below the long-term average of 538. Hunters checked 23 white-tailed deer, down from 31 a year ago and less than half of the long-term average of 59. They had harvested 44 mule deer, down from 83 during the same weekend a year ago and less than half of the average of 92. Hunters had 29 elk, just three fewer than a year ago and 10 fewer than average.

Of those hunters who stopped at Lavina over the weekend 35% had harvested an animal, down one percentage point from last year and two points from the average.

For the entire season Taylor checked 1,438 hunters, the lowest on record and well off the long-term average of 1,953. Hunters checked 70 white-tailed deer, the second lowest on record and less than half of the long-term average of 156. They also checked 148 mule deer, the lowest on record and well below the average of 254. Hunters had 101 elk, down only five from the average. Of those who stopped at Lavina during the season, 23% had harvested an animal, which is five percentage points below average.

Big Timber

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The number of hunters who stopped over the weekend was the lowest on record, along with the white-tailed deer and elk harvest. The number of checked mule deer was tied for the lowest ever during the closing weekend of Montana’s five-week general big-game season.

For the entire 2019 season the number of hunters who stopped at Big Timber was well below the long-term average. While the harvest measured at Big Timber was below average for all species, those hunters fared better than in a number of previous years.

Over the weekend FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 137 hunters, 100 fewer than the closing weekend of the 2018 general season and well below the long-term average of 231. Hunters checked 31 white-tailed deer, down from 47 on the same weekend last year and an average of 52. They had harvested 27 mule deer, down from 50 a year ago and an average of 59. Hunters had harvested six elk, less than half of the 15 checked last year and an average of 16.

For the entire 2019 general season, Paugh checked 914 hunters, down from an average of 1,018. Hunters checked 144 white-tailed deer, down from an average of 162, and 181 mule deer, down from an average of 224. Elk hunters checked 55 elk during the season, down slightly from an average of 59.

Heights

At FWP’s Billings Heights check station biologists checked fewer than half as many hunters and harvested animals over the weekend than the same time period last year.

FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 171 hunters Saturday and Sunday, down from 370 during the closing weekend of the 2018 season. Hunters checked 23 white-tailed deer, 10 fewer than the same weekend last year, and 58 mule deer, down from 137 a year ago. They also checked nine elk, down from 15 in 2018. This past weekend 53% of all hunters who stopped had harvested an animal, up three percentage points from the same period in 2018.

This was the first year that O’Reilly operated the check station all six weekends of the general big game hunting season, so full season statistics are not comparable to 2018 or a long-term average.

For the year, 1,438 hunters stopped at FWP’s Billings Heights check station with 92 white-tailed deer, 362 mule deer and 88 elk.

Laurel

The number of hunters who stopped was the lowest on record, as was the white-tailed deer harvest. The number of mule deer checked was the second lowest ever measured while the elk harvest was well above average.

During the four weekends that he ran FWP’s Laurel check station this year, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 405 hunters, the fewest on record and well short of the long-term average of 768. Hunters checked 40 white-tailed deer, a record low number and well below the long-term average of 94. The 85 mule deer checked at Laurel was identical to 2015 and lower than any year except 2014, when just 70 mule deer were checked. On average, hunters have checked 176 mule deer at Laurel.

The elk harvest measured at Laurel was the bright spot among the statistics with 14 checked in 2019, five more than the long-term average.

Numbers gathered at Laurel were dragged down during the final weekend of the 2019 season. Watson checked 65 hunters on Saturday and Sunday, down from 156 during the same weekend last year. Hunters checked 13 white-tailed deer, fewer than half of the 30 checked in 2018. They checked 15 mule deer, just a third of the 45 brought to Laurel during the same weekend in 2018. Elk hunters checked six elk, up from two in 2018.

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