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Hunting season picks up pace across west-central Montana - remains slow in northwest


November 8, 2018

While hunter activity and harvest picked up in the third weekend of the general big game season in west-central Montana, mild weather conditions continued to hamper hunter success across the northwest.

West-central Montana Update

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reports that after a slow start to the season, the Bonner check station is now showing 2,625 hunter trips and the Darby station is reporting 2,144, inching within 10 percent and four percent of hunter activity reported at this time last year. Elk harvests of 50 checked at Bonner and 95 at Darby remain below the marks of 63 and 112 at this time in 2017 but are higher than in 2016.

FWP points out that this corresponds with the lack of any significant snow this year, like conditions at this point of the season in 2016. At this time last year, the Snotel site on Saddle Mountain (Bitterroot) had 26 inches of snow compared to five this year, and Copper Camp (Blackfoot) had 13 inches of snow last year, compared to just one currently.

White-tailed deer harvest reported at Bonner increased to 138 over the weekend but the total remains the lowest at Bonner for mid-season since 2014. White-tailed deer harvest at Darby climbed to 22, compared with 21 at this point last year. Mule deer harvests of 19 at Bonner and 14 at Darby are nearly identical to last year.

Check stations only sample a small portion of hunter participation and harvests across the region but they are an important part of monitoring trends and recording information on wildlife age, health and other observations from the field.

At the Darby check station, students from Ms. Antonioli’s AP Environmental Science class at Hamilton High School are assisting this year by visiting with hunters, collecting data and aging harvested animals through tooth wear and replacement.

“It’s part of an assignment to give students a taste of real-world natural resource management, and it has been a big help to us at the station,” said Rebecca Mowry, FWP wildlife biologist in the Bitterroot. “Students this Sunday got a treat when a hunter stopped by with a bull moose from the upper Bitterroot.”

Northwest Montana Update:

A total of 6,748 hunters stopped at five check stations across Region 1. That is nearly 850 fewer hunters than a year ago. This year’s hunters have checked 320 whitetail deer, including 171 bucks, as well as 39 mule deer and 33 elk. The overall success rate for the region is 5.8 percent, down from last year’s 7.1 percent.

Mild weather and rainy conditions have plagued the region in recent weeks.

“Hunters are reporting that they are seeing a lot of does but the bucks have been more elusive. Hopefully the arrival of colder weather will increase activity among the deer and elk and lead to increased success for hunters,” said Neil Anderson, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager.

The onset of the rut, which is expected to occur soon, should improve hunters’ odds of seeing older bucks.

Hunters are 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.

This year there are new regulations and carcass transport restrictions surrounding the threat of chronic wasting disease. Because of the discovery of CWD, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has established CWD positive areas and transport restriction zones (TRZ) in both parts of the state where the disease was found.

With the detection of an additional suspect in Liberty County, the CWD positive areas were increased to all of Liberty County, and in Carbon County east of U.S. Highway 212 and the Roberts-Cooney Road to the Wyoming border. FWP established broader transport restriction zones to help prevent the spread of the disease. A TRZ is one or more counties, or portions of counties, that contain a CWD positive area.

To prevent the spread of CWD, no brain or spinal column material from animals taken in the CWD positive area are allowed outside the transport restriction zones. For more info, visit FWP’s CWD information page.

Hunters are also reminded to properly dispose of carcasses. Once an animal with CWD dies, any part of the carcass can transmit the disease for at least two years. Safely dispose of all animal parts in solid waste landfills to help keep our local herds clean of CWD.

Hunters are reminded to stop at check stations even if they have not harvested an animal. The counts at the hunter check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

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, Residents can call Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional offices for more information. In northwest Montana, call 406-752-5501.


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