BILLINGS — Clear skies, seasonal temperatures and relatively calm winds over the weekend did not translate into big numbers of hunters in the field in south central. But those who went hunting during the fifth weekend of the 2013 season were more successful than hunters during the same weekend last year.
Check station statistics gathered over the weekend show that the deer harvest remains below the long-term average for south central Montana while the elk harvest remains strong.
At the Big Timber check station, hunter numbers were the lowest ever recorded for the fifth weekend of the general deer and elk seasons. FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported that the number of deer checked at Big Timber also was well below last year and the long-term average. The six elk reported over the weekend were more than last year, but right on the ten-year average.
For the weekend, 53.3 percent of hunters who stopped at Big Timber had harvested game – the highest number for the 2013 season and 10 points ahead of the same weekend last year. For the first four weeks of this fall’s season, hunter success remains the lowest on record – 32.5 percent, about 10 points below the long-term average.
At Columbus, the number of hunters and the number of deer and elk checked were below the same weekend last year. FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported that the harvest of white-tailed deer checked at Columbus was 21 percent lower than the same weekend last year, but still 25 percent above the long-term average for the fifth weekend of the season.
For the year to date at Columbus, hunter numbers are 27 percent ahead of last year and 16 percent ahead of the long-term average. The white-tail deer harvest is 15percent ahead of the long term average but slightly behind last year. The mule deer harvest continues to be 43 percent below the long-term average and the second lowest ever observed this late in the season. This year’s elk harvest remains more than double the long-term average, but similar to last year’s record harvest. Overall hunter success for the year is just 31 percent, which is the lowest observed since prior to 1999.
At FWP’s Lavina check station, the number of hunters and the number of deer checked were down sharply from the same weekend last year. Wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer reported that 227 hunters stopped at Lavina over the weekend, which is 23 percent fewer than the same weekend in 2012. The success rate among those hunters was identical to last year with 24 percent taking home an animal.
For the year to date, the number of hunters who have stopped at Lavina is 9 percent lower than the long-term average while hunter success is just 19 percent. The mule deer harvest is just 51 percent or the long-term average while the white-tailed deer harvest is 47 percent of average.
Elk remain the bright spot at the Lavina check station, with this year’s numbers of checked animals 19 percent above the long-term average.
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.