Big game rifle season ended Sunday with below average harvest totals for deer and elk in west-central Montana.
At the region’s three check stations for the season, 20,395 hunters checked 586 elk, 254 mule deer, 496 white-tailed deer, seven black bears, three moose, 22 bighorn sheep, four mountain goats and sixteen wolves for 6.8 percent of hunters with game. This is lower than the 8 percent of hunters with game last year.
Elk harvest finished just five percent below last year but nearly 45 percent behind the five-year average. Elk harvest was the lowest since 2002 when 445 elk were tallied at the Region 2 check stations.
The Anaconda station, which monitors hunter harvest in the Upper Clark Fork portion of the region, saw an above-average elk harvest this season, but both the Darby and Bonner stations were slower than in the past five years.
Region-wide, white-tailed deer harvest reported at the check stations ended the season approximately 50 percent behind the five-year average. Mule deer harvest totals are nearly 45 percent below.
“Harvest of both deer and elk remained relatively light at the Bonner check station through the end of the season, and white-tail numbers were noticeably down,” says Jay Kolbe, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) wildlife biologist responsible for the Bonner station. “Hunters worked harder to find fewer white-tail and mule deer bucks than they have during any of the last 12 seasons.”
Hunter numbers are down approximately 15 percent from both last year and the five-year average but comparable to numbers recorded in the early 2000s.
“We really want to thank hunters for their patience and cooperation at our check stations each year,” Kolbe says. “The data we collect is critical to helping us manage western Montana game populations.
Biologists will be considering this year’s check station data along with the information collected in mid-winter detailed phone surveys with randomly selected hunters and spring aerial surveys of mule deer and elk as they make recommendations for the upcoming hunting seasons.