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South central Montana hunter numbers up; harvest still lagging

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hunting - Region 5

BILLINGS — Warm temperatures, a few sprinkles and strong winds combined Saturday and Sunday to keep many hunters at home and limit the wildlife harvest in south central Montana for the second weekend of the state’s annual general big game season.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists reported that slightly more hunters stopped at regional check stations than the same weekend in 2011, but the percentage of hunters with game – particularly deer – was down everywhere. Elk were the exception, showing up in good numbers at all four check stations.

The number of hunters who stopped at the Big Timber check station was about the same as last year, but still well below the long-term average. On Sunday, 117 hunters stopped compared to 119 in 2011. The ten-year average for the second weekend of the general season at Big Timber is 144 people.

FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said 44 percent of hunters had game, which was much higher than the record-low 31 percent last year, but still well below the long-term average of 56 percent.
The elk harvest continues to be a high point at Big Timber with 11 animals checked Sunday. The 10-year average is seven elk.

For the two weekends of the season so far, hunter numbers remain relatively low – 13 percent below 2011 – at the Big Timber check station. But the mule deer harvest picked up from a week ago and the percentage of hunters with game improved to 39.9 percent from only 27.5 percent for opening weekend.

At FWP’s Lavina check station, hunter numbers remained at a record low, though the percentage of hunters with game stayed close to last year.

FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer checked 181 hunters at Lavina Sunday. For the year, she has checked 396 hunters, down from the record low of 458 in 2011. So far in 2012, 18.5 percent of hunter who stopped at Lavina had game, compared to 19.5 percent last year. The long-term average is 23 percent. Sunday’s percentage was the lowest on record for the second weekend of the general big game season.

The mule deer harvest reported at Lavina was 57 percent below the long-term average while the white-tailed deer harvest was down 63 percent. The elk harvest was up from average, however with 48 percent more bulls and 62 percent more cows and calves than usual.

The Laurel check station saw some improvement in the number of harvested animals from opening weekend. But the percentage of hunters with game still was at only 27 percent, down from 28 percent last year and 36 percent in 2010.

FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson said the white-tailed deer harvest reported at Laurel was mostly antlerless animals while the mule deer harvest leaned toward bucks. A number of upland game bird and waterfowl hunters also stopped at Laurel.

At Columbus, 166 hunters checked in during the second weekend, an increase of 12 percent from opening weekend. But only 55 big game animals were checked for a for a success rate of just 33 percent.

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart said the 23 white-tailed deer checked were down 42 percent from the same weekend in 2011 while the 22 mule deer harvested were the lowest on record. Meanwhile, Stewart checked 10 elk, the largest number on any weekend in recent memory.

For the year, hunter numbers at Columbus are down 12 percent with an overall success rate of 38 percent.

The general season runs through Nov. 25.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks operates check stations throughout the antelope and general big game seasons to gather biological information about the state’s herds and hunting conditions. Game wardens also check some hunters at the stations for compliance with state laws.

All hunters are required to stop at any check station they pass either on the way to or the way home from the field, whether or not they have harvested game.

-FWP-