Hunter numbers up, deer harvest flat from last year

Billings 

Montana’s 2016 general big-game season featured warm temperatures and light-to-gusty winds for the fourth weekend in a row, making for difficult, albeit comfortable, hunting conditions throughout south central Montana.

At two of the three Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations in the region, hunter numbers were up sharply from the same weekend last year and near the long-term average. But the deer harvest was flat from the same weekend a year ago and, for year-to-date, down from the average.

Here are some reports from the three FWP biological check stations operated in south central Montana over the weekend.

 

Columbus

The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Columbus check station over the weekend was down sharply from the same weekend in 2015, but the number of animals harvested was similar. That meant that the percentage of hunters with game was the best since 2010 and well ahead of last year.

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 175 hunters over the weekend, down from 240 the same weekend last year. Those hunters had 34 white-tailed deer, slightly ahead of 31 in 2015. The mule deer harvest was 32 animals, down from 42 a year ago. Eight elk were checked, up from five last year and the highest number of any weekend so far this season.

Of the hunters who stopped, 42 percent had harvested game, up from 33 percent a year ago. Mild weather, which made hunting difficult, was mitigated by the deer rut, which Stewart said was in full swing. As a result, most of the deer checked were mature bucks.

 

Big Timber

At Big Timber, 187 hunters stopped at the FWP check station – the most since 2010 for the fourth full weekend of the general big-game season. During the same weekend in 2015, 141 hunters stopped.

FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said the number of hunters who had harvested white-tailed deer was up from last year – 23 over the weekend compared to 16 a year ago – while the numbers of elk and mule deer were similar to last year. Hunters checked 43 mule deer – up just two animals from the same weekend in 2015. Eleven elk came through the check station, the same as the fourth weekend of the 2015 season.  Eight antelope came through the check station while none were reported for the weekend in 2015.

Of those who stopped, 45 percent had harvested game, down slightly from 48 percent during the same weekend a year ago.

For the entire season so far, the numbers of hunters and the mule deer harvest are well above the long-term average while the white-tailed deer and antelope harvests are near 20 percent below average. In some parts of south central Montana, white-tailed deer and antelope herds still are recovering from diseases that thinned their numbers in the past few years.

 

Lavina

At Lavina, 272 hunters stopped at FWP’s check station over the weekend. While that is up sharply from the 228 who stopped during the same weekend last year, the deer harvest was nearly identical to a year ago.

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor said hunters checked 14 white-tailed deer, down from 16 a year ago, and 31 mule deer, just one more than in 2015. The elk harvest was off sharply to five from 21 during the same weekend last year. As a result just 19 percent of those who stopped at Lavina had harvested game – down 10 percentage points from the same weekend in 2015.

For the season so far, the number of hunters is slightly off of the long-term average while the white-tailed deer harvest is down 49 percent and mule harvest is down 28 percent from average. The elk harvest remains 16 percent above the long-term average, but has slowed substantially from the past two years.

 

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.

Here are some weekend stats from FWP’s three south central Montana check stations over the weekend.

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