BILLINGS — Wind made hunting difficult throughout south central Montana over the weekend. The deer and elk harvest picked up from previous weeks, however, as hunters reported that the annual deer rut is in full swing. Biologists at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check station at Big Timber reported checking the biggest white-tailed deer and mule deer bucks of the year.
At FWP’s Lavina check station, wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer reported that hunter numbers remained strong and, with the annual rut in full swing, hunter success increased substantially from previous weeks.
Of the 210 hunters who stopped at Lavina Sunday, 27 percent had harvested deer or elk. While that was better than the same weekend last year, the success rate was below the long-term average for the fourth weekend of the season. Harvested deer and elk numbers all were up from the same weekend last year.
For the entire season so far, hunter numbers at Lavina are 5 percent below the long-term average while the deer harvest is down more than 45 percent from average. The elk harvest remains the bright spot at the Lavina check station, with numbers so far this year 12 percent above the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart said that the deer harvest reported at the Columbus check station was 43 percent better than the same weekend last year. The number of hunters was up 80 percent from the same weekend in 2012. As a result, only 26 percent of hunters had game animals – the lowest number since 1999 – compared with 34 percent on the same weekend last year.
For the first three weeks of the 2013 season, the number of hunter who stopped at Columbus is running 41 percent above last year, but still 21 percent below the long-term average. The white-tailed deer harvest is 10 percent more than average while the mule deer harvest is 40 percent below average.
The elk harvest reported at Columbus is nearly triple the long-term average and the highest on record for the first three weeks of the season.
At Big Timber, the number of hunters and the number of animals checked were lower than the same weekend in 2012.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said the number of hunters who stopped at the Big Timber check station was the lowest on record for the fourth weekend of the season. However, for the year, the number of hunters still is ahead of the long-term average.
The white-tailed deer harvest reported at Big Timber was equal to the same weekend last year, but mule deer and elk numbers were much less. The percentage of hunters with game was the second lowest on record.
For the entire season, the deer harvest and percent of hunters with game are below the long term average while the elk harvest is well ahead of average at Big Timber.
The 2013 general deer and elk season runs through Dec. 1. FWP operates weekend check stations throughout the general big-game season to gather biological information about the state’s herds and hunting conditions. Game wardens also check some hunters 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.