South central Montana hunter numbers, deer harvest down

The number of hunters who stopped at Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations in south central Montana during the first two weekends of the 2017 general big-game season was down from last year. The deer harvest also was lower than in 2016, but the number of checked elk was up sharply from a year ago.
FWP operated four check stations that also were open last year – at Columbus, Laurel, Big Timber and Lavina. At those stations, 1,705 hunters checked 109 white-tailed deer – down from 113 last year – and 225 mule deer – down from 228 in 2016. They also checked 120 elk, up from 76 a year ago.

At FWP’s Laurel check station, fewer hunters stopped this year during the first two weekends of the season and fewer of them had harvested deer than in 2016.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 221 hunters at Laurel during the first two weekends of the season – down from 242 during the same time in 2016. Those hunters checked 24 white-tailed deer – down one from a year ago – and 32 mule deer – down from 47 in 2016. Of those who stopped, 26 percent had harvested game, down from 30 percent during the same two weekends last year.

FWP also opened a new check station in Billings Heights, for which there are no comparisons to previous years. At the Billings check station, FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 357 hunters during the first two weekends of the 2017 general big-game season. Those hunters had harvested three white-tailed deer, 72 mule deer and 27 elk along with 13 antelope and a bighorn sheep. Of those who stopped, 32 percent had harvested an animal.
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.
This fall, FWP also is gathering tissue samples to test for the presence of chronic wasting disease, or CWD. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of deer, elk and moose. It has not yet been discovered in Montana’s wild populations, but it has been detected in 21 other states and two Canadian provinces – some very near the border with Montana.
As the disease continues to expand, FWP officials believe it is only a matter of time before it is in Montana. Biologists believe that early detection provides Montana with best chance of containing CWD.

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