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Check station

A deer carcass bleeds after having its neck cut open while technicians remove lymph nodes for CWD testing Sunday, Oct. 27, in Billings.

Hunter numbers over the past weekend in south-central Montana generally were down from the same period a year ago while the harvest numbers were dependent on location.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists who staffed the four check stations said wind was the main culprit in limiting hunter participation and harvest. Here are some details:

Columbus

Stiff winds along the Beartooth foothills on Saturday were followed by howling winds on Sunday, which seemed to stifle hunter participation during the fifth weekend of the 2019 general big game season. As a result, biologists at FWP’s Columbus check station checked the fewest hunters of any weekend in the past 40 years.

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 76 hunters, just half of the 153 during the same weekend last year and well below the long-term average of 216.

"I'm just shocked. It's really been dead," Stewart said.

The deer harvest measured at Columbus also was at a record low with just nine white-tailed deer and 18 mule deer checked. During the same weekend in 2018 hunters checked 33 white-tailed deer and 28 mule deer. Of those who stopped, 39% had harvested an animal, down from 43% a year ago and a long-term average of 49.

"It's about as low a harvest rate as we've had on mule deer," Stewart said, looking back as far as the 1990s for comparison.

Back-to-back severe winters have cut fawn survival, he said, but the drop in hunter numbers is unprecedented. 

Lavina

Brisk winds did not deter hunters who passed FWP’s Lavina check station nor hamper the harvest on Sunday. Compared to last year hunter numbers and harvest were better than the same weekend last year, but still below the long-term average.

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FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 203 hunters Sunday, up from 183 a year ago but below the long-term average of 253. Hunters brought in 16 white-tailed deer, down from 19 in 2018. The mule deer harvest measured at Lavina was 34, up sharply from 22 checked during the same weekend last year. Hunters checked 15 elk, up just one from a year ago.

Of the hunters who stopped at Lavina, 32% had harvested an animal, up two percentage points from 2018 and three percentage points from the long-term average.

Big Timber

Hunters who stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station Sunday complained that wind — which peaked at 69 mph — hampered their hunts. But the number of hunters was up from last year and the deer harvest was the same as the same weekend in 2018.

FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 138 hunters Sunday, up from 128 last year. They had harvested 23 white-tailed deer — four fewer than in 2018 and down from a long-term average of 31. Hunters had 36 mule deer — four more than a year ago but four fewer than the long-term average of 40. Hunters checked six elk, down from 11 in 2018.

Of the hunters who stopped, 47% had harvested an animal, down from 55% during the same weekend last year and well below the long-term average of 59%.

With only a week left in the season, Paugh said more hunters are starting to harvest antlerless deer to fill B tags or their general licenses.

Heights

FWP’s Billings Heights check station operated only on Sunday this past weekend. During the same weekend in 2018 it was open both Saturday and Sunday, so statistics are not directly comparable.

FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 205 hunters on Saturday with 10 white-tailed deer, 67 mule deer and three elk. In 2018, 341 hunters stopped with 38 white-tailed deer, 105 mule deer and 19 elk. Of those who stopped Sunday, 39% had harvested an animal, down nine percentage points from the full weekend last year.

FWP’s check stations in south central Montana will operate on weekends through the end of the 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.

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