Deer and elk harvest remained steady during week four of big game season in west-central Montana.
White-tailed deer harvest started off slow this season, but now after four weeks harvest totals are right in line with last year and just five percent shy of the five-year average. Mule deer harvest lags 25 percent behind last year’s first four weeks and 27 percent behind the five-year average.
Regionally, harvest numbers for elk are down four percent from last year and 22 percent from the five-year average.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Regional Wildlife Manager, Mike Thompson, points out that elk harvest has varied across the region this season, with higher harvest numbers recorded at the Bonner hunter check station and lower numbers at Darby.
“The Bonner check station’s elk tally is higher than last year and on par with the five-year average, reflecting harvest from hunting districts (HDs) where elk are generally at or above population objectives,” Thompson said.
The Darby station tells a different story, where the number of elk checked is the lowest since 2004 and nearly 40 percent behind the five-year average.
“Elk checked through the Darby station generally reflects harvest from HDs where elk populations are at or below population objective,” Thompson added.
Hunter traffic slowed slightly during week four at the Darby and Anaconda check stations, with hunter numbers down 18 percent from the five-year average at the Darby station. Mild weather might have kept some hunters at home, waiting on harsher conditions to spur more wildlife movement.
“There was only a skiff of snow in the Georgetown and Anaconda area this week and none in the Flint Creek Valley,” Ray Vinkey, FWP Wildlife Biologist at the Anaconda station reported. “Hunters have either filled their tags or are waiting on snow to get the animals moving.”
Craig Jourdonnais, FWP Wildlife Biologist for the Bitterroot, reported more of the same for his area. “Without winter weather to start the migration, elk are scattered between high and low elevations right now.”
Week four at the Bonner check station reflects a different story—one of increased hunter numbers and a harvest that is higher than any reported in the past five years for elk. The station has checked 8,669 hunters this year—more than in the past ten years.
During the season’s first two weeks 20,691 hunters passed through the three west-central Montana check stations with 574 elk, 331 mule deer, 811 white-tailed deer, nine black bears, three moose and sixteen bighorn sheep, and one mountain goat for 8.4 percent of hunters with game.
Hunters are reminded that they must stop at all check stations that they pass on their way to or from hunting—even if they have not harvested any animals.