Heavy snow, wind and single-digit cold kept many hunters home and animals tucked into cover during the third weekend of the big game season in south central Montana.
Traffic was slow at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations. And while the numbers of harvested animals were higher than last year, in many instances they remained lower than long-term averages.
Overall, hunter success reported at the Columbus check station was 36 percent, compared to 49 percent last weekend. The number of mule deer was a third higher than last year, but the white-tailed deer harvest was down by a third. Of the mule deer checked, 79 percent were bucks.
Bucks made up only 14 percent of the white-tailed deer harvest as hunters continued to fill their "B" tags.
At Big Timber, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported 99 hunters on Sunday, the fewest ever recorded on that day. The mule deer harvest also was the lowest on record with just 17 harvested animals coming checked over the weekend.
Overall hunter success was 48.5 percent at Big Timber, compared to just 36 percent last year, Paugh said. The long-term average is 57 percent.
At Laurel, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson said that hunter success was about the same as last year, but harvest rates for both deer species remain below the long-term average.
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About a third of the checked deer showed sign of rut activity, so the annual rite should be well under way by next weekend, Watson said.
Bucks -- 90 percent of them older than two years -- comprised 69 percent of the mule deer checked, Watson said, while 55 percent of the white-tailed deer harvested had antlers.
At the Lavina check station, the number of hunters was 28 percent below the long-term average for the first three weekends of the season. The numbers are about equal to the past five years, however.
The mule deer and white-tailed deer harvest reported at Lavina was less than half of average while the number of antelope checked so far this year is down 72 percent.
Since 1993, the Lavina check station has averaged 300 checked animals for the first three weekends of the season. Despite one extra day (the season opened on a Saturday instead of a Sunday in 2010 and 2011) only 181 harvested animals have been checked this year.
Elk harvest has been the bright spot at the Lavina check station with the number of checked animals up 109 percent from the long-term average.