Two weeks of big game hunting season have come and gone, and hunters in west-central Montana continue to report a deer harvest above last season, while elk numbers trail behind.
Mule deer harvest reported at the region’s three hunter check stations is up 24 percent from last season and white-tailed deer tallies are 20 percent ahead. Elk totals are 20 percent behind the first two weeks of the 2011 season.
“Hunters are reporting that deer are moving, maybe in response to early rutting activity,” says Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 Wildlife Manager. “But mild weather is taking its toll on hunter motivation and overall success, especially for finding elk.”
Until consistent snowfall is part of the hunting season equation, Thompson says, tracking animals is more difficult and elk stick to higher country. More hunters may be staying home, waiting for a blast of winter weather.
At the hunter check station near Darby, where Thompson spent part of his weekend, the total number of animals checked in the first two weeks of the big game hunting season was identical to last season’s first two weeks. But a larger percentage of the 2012 harvest at Darby is deer.
A 10 percent bump above the five-year average in white-tailed deer harvest at Darby offset a 16% drop in elk harvest in the total tally.
The Bonner check station also reported a white-tailed deer harvest ahead of last year and on par with the past three seasons, when hunting regulations in the Blackfoot districts were comparable.
“We instituted a more conservative white-tailed deer season in the Blackfoot in 2009, so whitetail harvest numbers have dropped since then in response,” says Jay Kolbe, FWP wildlife biologist. “The good news is that we are seeing more hunters coming through with young whitetail bucks this year, which tends to forecast a population boost to come.”
In the eastern reaches of the region, the Anaconda check station has only checked 35 elk this year, compared to 50 in the first two weeks of the 2011 season. And like the rest of the region, deer harvest is up from last season.
Ray Vinkey, FWP biologist in these upper Clark Fork districts, says that many hunters that typically head to this part of the region are also waiting for a change in the weather.
“Dry conditions are making hunting tough,” Vinkey says. “We’ve got traces of crunchy snow up high from the snowfall in the first few days of the season, and everything down low is dry.”
Nearly eight percent of hunters that travelled through one of the region’s three hunter check stations during the first two weeks of the season harvested game. Check stations tallied 6,839 hunter trips and a harvest of 248 elk, 84 mule deer, 191 white-tailed deer, four black bears, one moose and one bighorn sheep.
In Montana’s third wolf season, hunters have marked a statewide harvest of 45 wolves so far. Thirteen of those wolves came from west-central Montana’s Region 2.
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. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Nov. 25.