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Hunter numbers, success mixed for last weekend of season

Headlines - Region 5

Mon Nov 29 00:00:00 MST 2010

BILLINGS — The number of hunters who stopped at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ south central Montana check stations over the weekend was well below last year, as was the mule deer harvest. The number of elk and white-tailed deer checked during the sixth and final weekend of the 2010 season were better than the previous weekend, however.

The Big Timber check station was the only one in FWP Region 5 with an increase in the number of hunters from the same weekend last year. Wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that 206 hunter stopped over the weekend. That number was up from 192 during the same weekend last year, despite the fact that heavy snow on Sunday blocked much of the road access to the national forests and low-elevation private lands in the district.

While the mule deer harvest reported at Big Timber was identical to the previous weekend, it was 27 percent below the long-term average for the final weekend and, for the season, 13 lower than average.  The white-tailed deer harvest was 24 percent above average for the weekend, but six percent below average for the season.

Elk were a bright spot in numbers reported from Big Timber.  Paugh said he checked 31 elk over the weekend and 74 for the season – the most ever checked for the final weekend or the season.  He said, however, that only 43 percent of those elk were harvested in south central Montana with the rest coming from the Missouri Breaks districts.

At the Columbus check station, wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported the best success of the year with 59 percent of hunters taking home game. The 78 white-tailed deer checked were the most for any weekend, though 51 percent of those harvested were antlerless, he said. Antlerless animals made up 35 percent of the mule deer harvest while 83 percent of the checked muley bucks were older than two years.

This was the first year that the white-tailed deer harvest was higher than the mule deer harvest reported at Columbus, Stewart said. White-tail numbers were 36 percent above average for the year – a record at the Columbus check station.  On the other hand, mule deer numbers were 38 percent below the long-term average. Hunter numbers for the season were six percent lower than average at Columbus.

At the Laurel check station, wildlife technician Jay Watson reported that hunter numbers were down 29 percent from the closing weekend in 2009, but success was the same, with 47 percent of those who stopped taking home game. Adult bucks older than 2 years make up only 29 percent of the mule deer and 38 percent of the white-tailed deer harvested reported at Laurel, while many hunters filled their A tags with antlerless deer, he said.

After 23 hunting seasons, wildlife biologist Jay Newell worked his last shift at the Lavina check station Sunday before he takes over as a special projects biologist. “I will truly miss a lot of the hunters who have been stopping by my check station for the past 23 seasons,” Newell said. “Many of these hunters have taken the time to visit with me as they pass through, sharing their stories of success and valuable wildlife observations. Especially rewarding to me has been the opportunity to watch fathers and mothers hunting with their sons and daughters.”

For the weekend, Newell reported, hunter numbers at Lavina were 35.9 percent lower than the same weekend last year. The harvest was down, also with mule deer numbers 71.1 percent below 2009 and 24.4 percent behind the long-term average.

For the whole year, Newell said, the number of hunters who stopped at Lavina was 24.7 percent behind the long-term average and the harvest percentage – at 27.6 percent – was lower than any year on record except 2009.

White-tailed deer harvest reported at Lavina was 30.1 percent below average for the entire season, Newell said. Only 50.1 percent of the white-tailed deer checked at Lavina were bucks.