MISSOULA – West-central Montana hunter check stations are reporting elk and deer harvest totals that are up from last season and the five-year average after the first two weekends of big game season.
The number of hunter trips through the Darby, Bonner, Anaconda and Fish Creek check stations totaled 3,728 for the first two weekends of the season, right on track with last season at this point, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
However, FWP notes those hunters checked 149 elk collectively, compared to 92 at this point in 2021. Hunters checked 40 mule deer during the first two weekends of the season, compared to 30 last year, and 148 white-tailed deer, compared to 90 in 2021.
Elk harvest totals are up at all four hunter check stations in the region, but the Darby station has seen the biggest bump. FWP wildlife biologist, Rebecca Mowry, said that the Darby station is seeing strong numbers of harvested elk out of the Big Hole Valley.
“There is more elk hunting opportunity on the general license this year in Hunting District (HD) 321 in the Big Hole, and in general, people are reporting seeing a lot of elk around.” Mowry said.
HD 321 also covers more area this year, as a result of recent hunting district boundary adjustments, giving hunters more places to harvest elk on the general license. Forest fires over the past few years have also improved elk forage and habitat in new places.
More liberal hunting regulations for white-tailed deer have also helped to boost harvest in some parts of the region. The Bonner hunter check station is reporting a harvest of 101 white-tailed deer, many from Blackfoot hunting districts, compared to 67 at this point in 2021.
The Fish Creek hunter check station doesn’t have as long of a history of operation as the other stations but has become a good tool for tracking trends in the western reaches of the region in recent years.
Wildlife biologist Ryan Klimstra has recorded 364 hunters through the station in the first two weekends. Two checked bull elk during the season’s second weekend, while one had a mule deer buck.
“Those that were able to get out enjoyed some nice hunting weather this weekend, and as we get a bit later into the season, animals are starting to move around,” Klimstra said.
Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals.
The general big game season in Montana runs through Sunday, Nov. 27.