Posted: Oct 22, 2012 2:29 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
Updated: Oct 23, 2012 11:06 AM
MISSOULA- Montana's big game rifle season opened Saturday, and state wildlife officials say that although slightly fewer hunters headed to the field in west-central Montana than in recent years, those that went out met with success rates above last year and the five-year average.
"In many west-central Montana hunting districts, a general deer or elk license is only good for the harvest of an antlered animal, which is a shift from how things were five years ago," says Mike Thompson, Montana Fish, and Wildlife & Parks Region 2 Wildlife Manager. "With fewer opportunities for general license holders, we've got fewer hunters in some districts, but so far they are having decent success."
The numbers show 9% of hunters that travelled through one of the region's three hunter check stations on opening weekend had harvested game, compared to a seven percent five-year average. Check stations tallied 2,448 hunters and a harvest of 118 elk, 35 mule deer, 67 white-tailed deer, and three black bears.
Mule deer harvest was up on opening weekend compared to last season and the five-year average, due mostly to an above-average harvest in the upper Clark Fork districts. White-tailed deer harvest was on par with the 2011 opener and 10 percent below the five-year average, while elk hunters reported a harvest 19 percent below last season but 10 percent above the five-year.
Thompson spent opening weekend at the hunter check station near Darby where hunter numbers were 19% below the five-year average, as expected, Thompson says, due to the new requirement for hunters older than 15 years of age to hold a permit or special license to hunt elk in Hunting District 270-the East Fork of the Bitterroot.
"Bitterroot districts were slow, but hunters returning from Big Hole on Sunday bumped the elk harvest through Darby to a level 32% higher than the five-year average for opening weekend," Thompson reports. "Elk harvest through Darby from the Big Hole normally drops off sharply after the first weekend."
Hunter numbers through the Bonner hunter check station were lower than they have been for the start of the season since 2007, but hunters still checked 52 white-tailed deer, compared to 60 in the 2011 opener, and the age class of the deer was good news for biologists.
"We saw mostly young white-tailed bucks, which is a good thing because it tends to reflect better recent recruitment of young deer into a population and forecasts an overall boost in white-tailed deer numbers to come," says Jay Kolbe, FWP wildlife biologist for the Blackfoot area.
Kolbe also reported checking a few nice older age-class bucks and reflected that elk harvest out of the Blackfoot districts was down a bit from recent years and dispersed.
Hunters that headed to the eastern part of the region near Deer Lodge and Anaconda, met with average success for elk where FWP biologist, Ray Vinkey, reported checking a few nice bulls through the Anaconda hunter check station.
"This year's opener intersected with the tail end of the elk rut, and that combined with the cooler weather, helped out a few hunters," Vinkey says. Hunter numbers at Anaconda were nine percent higher than the five-year average, but lower than the past two seasons.
The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Nov. 25.