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Slow start to hunting season in western Montana

 

October 25, 2018

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

The family of Seeley Lake's Edie Walters enjoying the Seeley Lake Senior Center Hunter's Breakfast after spending the morning hunting. Pictured: Brielynn Delaney, Brynn Weatherman, Kellen Delaney, Kristina Walters, Brenda Sheppard and Bill Sheppard.

Montana's 2018 big game hunting season opened Oct. 20 with a light harvest under sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures in western Montana.

Hunters are encouraged to check the Montana hunting regulations for the district they plan to hunt before hitting the field. Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Nov. 25.

Hunters are reminded to "Be Bear Aware" and properly store food and manage carcasses.

More safety information is available on the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, fwp.mt.gov. Residents can call the FWP regional office for more information. In northwest Montana, call 406-752-5501.

Region 1 Update

Amid unseasonably warm temperatures, harvest rates were down at four of the five check stations in Region 1. FWP staff checked 2,632 hunters, 150 white-tailed deer, 10 mule deer and 19 elk for a harvest rate of 6.8 percent.

According to FWP Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson, warm weather made for challenging hunting conditions.

"We didn't expect success rates to be high this weekend with temps reaching the mid to upper 60's. The number of hunters visiting check stations was also down this weekend," Anderson said. "I am surprised that the overall whitetail harvest was this low, but there is plenty of season remaining. We expect these numbers to go up as the season progresses and moisture and colder temperatures move into the area."

The Olney check station saw the highest harvest rate with 13.6 percent of the hunters harvesting deer. Mule deer buck harvest was up from last year across the region and elk harvest was slightly down.

Hunters are reminded that the ability to harvest antlerless whitetail on a general license ends this Friday, Oct. 26, except for hunters under the age of 15 and for people who have a permit to hunt from a vehicle. Hunters are also reminded that mule deer buck hunting in the North Fisher portion of Hunting District 103 near Libby is permit-only.

Elk hunting is brow-tined bull only in Region 1. Spike elk are not legal game.

Region 2 Update

FWP check stations near Bonner and Darby recorded the lowest combined totals of harvested elk and deer for opening weekend since 1999. The Anaconda station is not open this year; instead two chronic wasting disease (CWD) surveillance stations are in place in the nearby Flint Creek Valley.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Hunter Breakfast volunteers from the Seeley Lake Senior Center and Seeley-Swan High School Leos Club. While the breakfast was not as well attended as last year, Senior Center President Boyd Gossard was pleased with the turn out. He thanked everyone for attending and those who donated silent auction items. The winner of the 50/50 drawing was ticket number 378354. As of Monday, the $173.50 winnings had not been claimed. Gossard said if the ticket is not claimed, the Senior Center will keep the entire pot.

"The warm weather certainly played a role in the lack of hunter success, and we'll expect that to change as the season moves along," said Scott Eggeman, FWP wildlife biologist in the Blackfoot area. High temps reached the 60s and 70s over the weekend.

The harvest of 25 elk at the Bonner check station was above its five-year average of 20 for opening weekend but the harvest of 50 elk at the Bitterroot Valley's check station near Darby was lower than its five-year average of 62.

The Bonner check station reported 39 white-tailed deer, down from its five-year average of 63 for opening weekend, while the white-tailed deer harvest of seven at Darby was the same as last year, but down from its five-year average of 14.

Mule deer harvests of 10 checked at Bonner and five at Darby were on par for average opening harvests.

Hunter check stations sample a small portion of the effort and harvests across the region, but they do represent trends over time, according to Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 Wildlife Manager.

"Check stations are an important part of monitoring harvest trends and recording information on wildlife age, health and other observations from the field," Thompson said.

 

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