Hunting season ends in Montana with mixed results

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Northwest Montana big-game hunters harvested fewer white-tailed deer and elk than in past years, but the number of mule deer taken was significantly up.

Montana’s general big game hunting season ended Nov. 25. The overall hunter success rate was 7.6 percent compared to 8.6 percent a year ago, according to statistics taken at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 check stations.

A combined total of 950 white-tailed deer, including 676 bucks, were harvested in Region 1 this season. That is down from recent years. There were 100 mule deer checked, which is nearly twice as many as last season. The number of checked elk, 58, was 20 fewer than a year ago. The total number of hunters checked — 14,615 — was also down from recent years.

The counts at the hunter check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

State wildlife officials say several factors worked to hunters’ disadvantage this season, including unseasonably warm weather and poor tracking conditions throughout the past month and the season ending before the peak of the deer rut. Wildlife biologists also attribute back-to-back harsh winters that appeared to have had an impact on local herds in parts of the region. Harvest numbers this season are similar to the aftermath of the 1996-97 winter.

Overall 14,615 hunters were counted at Region 1 check stations. That’s more than 2,000 off last season’s participation and the lowest in a decade.

The U.S. 2 check station was the busiest with more than 6,000 hunters counted. The success rate was 7.3 percent at that station, down slightly from 7.6 percent a year ago.

The Olney check station had the highest success rate at 10.1 percent. The most elk were taken at the Thompson Falls station, with 25 checked there.

Deer and elk harvest totals recorded at west-central Montana’s two hunter check stations in Region 2 were on par with recent years.

All told, Region 2’s stations saw 9,707 hunter trips, 243 elk, 98 mule deer, 457 white-tailed deer, six black bears, two moose, three bighorn sheep, and one wolf this season.

The numbers at the hunter check station near Darby were up slightly from last year, with 169 elk, 33 mule deer and 69 white-tailed deer tallied, compared to 159, 22 and 68, respectively last season.

At the hunter check station near Bonner, a busy final weekend brought hunter-trips to 5,800 for the season, down slightly from 6,062 last year. Those hunters harvested 74 elk, down from 95 elk checked last year, and 65 mule deer, up from 45 checked last year. Whitetail harvest increased with the intensity of the rut in the last weekend of the season, raising the season total reported at Bonner to 388 white-tailed deer, which remained lower than the previous two seasons but only three under the total whitetails checked in 2015.

State wildlife officials said they will gain more complete game harvest information with its annual telephone surveys with hunters this winter and spring. Telephone interviewers call mid-week evenings and weekends to speak to hunters one-on-one to get the most accurate information possible. Results from the statewide survey are used by wildlife managers to evaluate past hunting seasons and to help set permit quotas, season dates, and other regulations for future years.

The general hunting season for wolves continues through March 15, 2019. The wolf trapping season runs Dec. 15 to Feb. 28.

Officials noted that anyone who sets traps for wolves is required to take a free one-time certification and education course. Fish, Wildlife and Parks is holding a wolf trapper certification course on Saturday, Dec. 1 at its Region 1 headquarters in Kalispell. In addition to specifics on equipment and techniques, participants will learn about the history, ethics, management, regulations, and requirements of wolves and wolf trapping. The class will be taught in a rotating-station format and will include outdoor stations. To register, visit fwp.mt.gov/education/hunter and click the tab labeled, “Wolf Trapper Education & Certification.”

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