The 2006 big game season in FWP Region 5 opened with a variety of weather conditions and hunt results.
“This year’s big game opener was a mixed bag. Some areas had really high harvest rates while others declined below averages. There are so many factors that influence harvest rates, including weather, season types, game numbers and local events. Therefore we tend to focus on long term trends which are less subject to annual fluctuations,” said Ray Mule’, FWP’s Region 5 Wildlife Manager.
The Columbus check station in south central Montana reported near perfect weather all day with temperatures in the mid-50s and no wind to speak of. Harvest numbers were down for all species, with a 44 percent drop in whitetail numbers below 2005, the lowest harvest since 2001.
The Lavina check station reported a very positive opening day in spite of high snow accumulations blocking access to some areas, and melting snow causing problems with mud in other areas. Nevertheless, harvest rates in the area increased for all big game species. Whitetail deer harvest rose 97 percent over the long-term average (1993 to 2005). The majority of the whitetails checked were antlerless, although buck harvest was the highest since 1996 and 72 percent above average.
Laurel experienced a 20 percent increase in hunter numbers from 2005, placing it more in line with the long-term average in the area. But along with the increase in hunter numbers came a decrease in the harvest success rate.
The Big Timber check station reported comfortable temperatures but with high winds. The windy conditions could have contributed to decreases in harvests for all species except mule deer, and for a drop in hunter numbers compared to last year. In spite of these statistics, hunter spirit in the area seemed high.
“Hunter success was still good at 50 percent with most hunters seeing game and being satisfied with their hunt,” said Jay Watson, FWP Wildlife Technician who worked at the Big Timber check station.
There are four more weeks left in the 2006 big game season. The weather report for the upcoming weekend is predicting mild but dry conditions. No matter the conditions and the number of animals being bagged, hunters are still enjoying their time a field.