Thursday, December 05, 2013
Hunting - Region 6
Overall hunter numbers and big-game harvests were down at the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 6 game check station outside Havre during the eight weekends it was open this fall.
“Hunter numbers were down 9 percent below those seen in 2012, and 35 percent below numbers seen in 2010,” said Havre-area Wildlife Biologist Scott Hemmer. “There were a total of 671 parties and 1,443 hunters checked this year.”
Hemmer noted that the severe winter weather in 2010-11 resulted in decreased deer and antelope populations throughout most of the Region, and that was reflected at the check station. In addition, there was high white-tailed deer mortality from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreaks in the eastern part of Region 6 in 2011, and in the western part of the Region earlier this year.
“Due to these weather and disease events, antelope, mule deer, and white-tailed deer doe licenses have all been significantly reduced below historic levels,” Hemmer said. “The combination of decreased game populations and fewer available doe licenses are primary factors in the decreased number of hunters and harvest seen at the station this year.”
The largest percentage decline in this year’s harvest was with pronghorn antelope. The number of harvested antelope checked was down 67 percent from last year and 93 percent below the long-term average.
“There were only 27 antelope checked this year, and in the past we would historically check 400-plus antelope in a year,” Hemmer said. “The drop in harvest concurred with hunter reports of fewer antelope observed.”
White-tailed deer harvest was also down significantly, and the number of white-tailed deer checked was down 57 percent from last year and 76 percent from the long-term average. Mule deer harvest was down 15 percent from last year and 38 percent below the long-term average.
“The reports from mule deer hunters at the check station indicated lower deer numbers observed overall, but reports were variable,” Hemmer explained. “Hunters in some hunting districts reported seeing substantially fewer deer than in past years, but in other areas hunters reported average to above average deer numbers.” Both mule deer and white-tailed deer were also more widely dispersed this year due to mild fall weather and excellent forage conditions, which resulted in fewer deer observed by hunters.
Elk harvest this year was up 46 percent from last year, but was 2 percent below the long-term average. The number of elk checked was up substantially at the beginning of the big game season, but harvest appeared to slow toward the end of the season.
“Most elk hunters reported seeing good numbers of animals, although some cow elk hunters reported encountering mostly bull elk,” he said. “Overall, weather conditions this hunting season were warmer with less snow, which may have reduced big game activity and reduced harvest. The weather did result in improved road conditions and hunter access in most areas.”
The reported upland bird harvest was down this year in FWP Region 6. Above-average precipitation this spring and summer resulted in increased vegetation heights and wider distribution of birds, which may have limited hunter harvest.
Hunters reported patchy upland bird distribution, with increased bird densities in better habitat. Overall, bird hunter reports for pheasants and Hungarian partridge indicated bird numbers comparable to last year, while hunters reported seeing fewer sharp-tailed grouse.
Along those lines, the reported pheasant harvest was down 22 percent from last year and 35 percent from the long-term average, and the Hungarian partridge harvest was down 14 percent from last year and 45 percent from the long-term average. Sharp-tailed grouse harvest was down 52 percent from the previous year and 59 percent from the long-term average.
“There was a relatively high percentage of juveniles in the upland bird harvest, suggesting increased reproductive success this year,” Hemmer said.
Increased precipitation this spring and summer resulted in good wetland conditions for waterfowl. Duck harvest was up 22 percent from the long-term, but was down 32 percent from last year. Most waterfowl hunter reports were positive, but Hemmer said fewer waterfowl hunters were seen at the check station later in the season.