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Sunday marks close of busy general season

Hunting - Region 7

Wed Nov 22 15:56:00 MST 2017

This Sunday marks the close of the 2017 general big game hunting season. License sales have been brisk in Region 7 as people squeeze their final hunting outings in between Thanksgiving celebrations. With the mule deer rut in full swing, many are hoping to punch their tags this weekend.

According to check station observations this season, big game hunters have generally reported seeing above-average deer numbers, and antelope are recovering well in most areas. Most check stations reported seeing a slight uptick in the number of hunters and the amount of game being harvested. For the most part, hunters have been satisfied with their opportunities to harvest game in Region 7. Upland game bird hunters have met with a little more difficulty due to the ongoing drought impacting nesting and habitat.

Custer check station

“A lot of folks had game,” Region 7 Wildlife Biologist Steve Atwood said of visitors to the Custer check station on November 12. “There were a few guys who chose not to take something, but for the most part everyone had an opportunity to harvest something.”

Atwood was joined that foggy morning by Region 7 Supervisor Brad Schmitz, Upland Game Bird Biologist Justin Hughes and Non-game Biologist Brandi Skone.

“Numbers were up,” Atwood said of hunters coming through. “We moved to Custer (from the Hysham rest stop, which is under construction), so we picked up a handful more than we typically would, coming out of the Bighorn and north of Custer.”

The check station saw 191 hunters, compared to the five-year average of 141. Sixty-one percent of those harvested game, just up from 59 percent on average. The crew checked 17 antelope, 81 mule deer, 18 white-tailed deer and three elk. Antelope were down from the five-year average as populations are still rebounding from earlier harsh winters. White-tails are close to average harvest rates.

“People seemed in good spirits,” Atwood said. “Folks are reporting seeing good numbers of deer, and they are starting to see the bucks up and moving around a little more. The rut is definitely getting going.”

Atwood said that fewer people were after antelope, but the ones who were found success.

“This is the big weekend for meat hunters,” he said, “because it’s the tail end of the antelope season and you get some big groups that come from western Montana and try to do it all - deer and antelope.”

Those hunters were pretty happy to be getting into game.

“The biggest deer of the season so far was a girl who came through with her dad and got it off a Block Management Area that is managed by FWP,” Atwood said of an 11-year-old apprentice getting her first buck.

Not surprisingly, FWP staff fielded a lot of questions about Chronic Wasting Disease, following two positive samples found in Montana deer this past month. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. It is a slow-moving disease. However, left unmanaged, it could result in long-term population declines within affected herds. People with questions about CWD can find more information on FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Those people hunting in priority surveillance areas of Regions 3 and 5 (see map on FWP site) are encouraged to have their harvested deer tested for CWD.

Ashland check station

The Ashland check station again saw a lot of activity on November 12. Hunters enjoyed nice, warm weather with light winds.

According to Region 7 Wildlife Biologist Ryan DeVore, a total of 122 parties came through the Ashland station, with a total of 260 hunters. Thirty-seven percent of hunters were successful (slightly lower than opening weekend), while 75 percent had an opportunity to harvest the species they were chasing (similar to opening weekend).

“All hunters primarily pursued big game,” DeVore said. “Most hunters had a quality experience, with 91 percent of them being satisfied with their time afield.”

The Ashland FWP crew checked 88 mule deer (56 bucks, 28 does, 4 fawns); 12 white-tailed deer (4 bucks, 5 does, 3 fawns); 9 antelope (6 bucks, 1 doe, 1 fawn, 1 unrecorded); and 8 elk (4 bulls, 4 cows).

“Like opening weekend, the number of elk coming through was a fair bit higher than normal. Hunters also harvested one jake turkey,” DeVore said.

DeVore was assisted at the check station by fellow biologists Melissa Foster and Jesse Kolar, Region 7 Information Officer Marla Prell, Warden Jordan Straley, and Aspen Rivera, a student from Miles City who is interested in becoming a game warden.