BILLINGS — Hunter numbers and the deer harvest were lower than average in south central Montana for the fourth weekend of the 2012 general big game season.
Hunters who stopped at the region’s three Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations reported that cold and blowing snow made hunting conditions and mountain access difficult Saturday and Sunday.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer reported that hunter numbers were down 38 percent from the same weekend in 2011. The mule deer and white-tailed deer harvest was down slightly from a year ago, but the percentage of hunters with game was up to 21 percent from 17 percent in 2011.
For the first four weekends of the season, hunter numbers at the Lavina check station are at a historic low – just 954 people checked compared to a long-term average of 1,259. Overall, 21 percent of hunters had harvested animals compared to a long-term average of 30 percent.
At the Columbus check station, FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported that hunter numbers were at just 52 percent of last year’s count – and the lowest since 1994. The mule deer and white-tailed deer count was less than half of last year’s number for the same weekend. Only 34 percent of hunters had harvested game compared to 41 percent during the fourth weekend of the 2011 season.
For the year, 656 hunters have stopped at the Columbus check station – down 15 percent from the long-term average. The white-tailed deer harvest reported at Columbus for all of 2012 is 11 percent ahead of average while the mule deer harvest is down 45 percent. This year’s elk harvest is up 40 percent from the long-term average.
At Big Timber, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported a continuing trend of fewer than average hunters and harvested deer, but a relatively successful elk kill. Just 103 hunters stopped at the Big Timber check station over the weekend, compared to 120 during the same period last year and a long-term average of 138. This year 41.7 percent of hunters had harvested game – up 10 percentage points from the record-low in 2011. Elk remained a bright spot with nine checked over the weekend compared to only one last year.
For the year, the number of hunters who stopped at the Big Timber check station is 94 percent of average. So far 40.6 percent of hunters have harvested game – well below the long-term average of 53.5 percent. Hunters had checked 45 elk to date at Big Timber – nearly double the long-term average of 23.
The general big game season runs through Nov. 25.
FWP 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.