Montana’s big game rifle season opened Saturday, and although nearly identical numbers of hunters headed to the field in west-central Montana as last year, hunter harvests checked through the Bonner, Darby and Anaconda check stations generally were below the five-year averages.

“It was a gorgeous weekend to be outdoors, which is often not the best setting for hunting success,” says Mike Thompson, Montana Fish, and Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Region 2 Wildlife Manager.  “I heard a lot of folks looking forward to snow in the forecast and making plans to hunt hard in the coming week and weekend.”

Seven percent of hunters that travelled through one of the region’s three hunter check stations on opening weekend had harvested game, compared to nine percent last year.  Check stations tallied 2,424 hunters and a harvest of 98 elk, 18 mule deer and 55 white-tailed deer.

Mule deer harvest was about half of last season’s opening weekend total and 28 percent below the five-year average. White-tailed deer harvest was 18 percent below the 2012 opener and 17 percent below the five-year average, while elk hunters reported a harvest 17 percent below last season and 16 percent below the five-year.

Last weekend marked the third year that FWP has operated a check station at the mouth of Fish Creek, in Mineral County.  FWP biologist, Vickie Edwards, checked 230 hunters at the Fish Creek station, but only 3 deer.

“We need to change the name of the Fish Creek check station to the Fish Creek chatting station,” Edwards quipped.  “Not much game, but some great conversations.”

Check stations are one of the main ways that FWP connects with the hunting public and obtains feedback on wildlife populations and hunting regulations, Edwards said.  Edwards established the Fish Creek check station in 2011 to learn more about hunting patterns and harvest on and surrounding the Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area, acquired in 2010.

Hunters are reminded that they must stop at all check stations that they pass on their way to or from hunting—even if they have not harvested any animals.  The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Dec. 1.

Logo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

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