MISSOULA — State wildlife officials have released the final numbers for the big game hunting season in Western Montana.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) reported checking 10,225 hunters with 837 harvested game animals at its three long-standing check stations in western Montana from opening day on October 26 until the general big game hunting season ended on Sunday afternoon.
The season started off with unusually early winter conditions, contributing to stronger than normal deer and elk harvests in the first few weeks, but wrapped up with average to below-average totals in some spots.
At the hunter check station near Darby, which primarily sees harvests from the southern Bitterroot and Big Hole, FWP biologist Rebecca Mowry and students from the University of Montana checked 4,012 hunters, 165 elk, 37 mule deer and 82 white-tailed deer for the season, numbers that were all on par or slightly up from last year and in line with the five-year average.
Blackfoot harvest statistics, however, lagged. Just outside of Bonner, FWP biologist Scott Eggeman and students checked 5,232 hunters, largely from Blackfoot hunting districts, with 49 elk, 38 mule deer and 365 white-tailed deer, numbers that were all below last season and the five-year average.
Elk harvest totals at Bonner finished 34 percent below the 2018 season and 25 percent below the five-year average. FWP attributes part of the decline to reduced hunter opportunity and elk numbers in some spots in the Blackfoot, combined with seasonal variability in weather and tracking conditions.
In the Upper Clark Fork, biologist Julie Golla and students checked 981 hunters at the hunter check station near Anaconda with 31 elk, 24 mule deer and 36 white-tailed deer, which were all in line with typical numbers.
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. Hunter harvest telephone surveys, conducted over the upcoming winter months, will provide more harvest data and trends.
“The statewide hunter harvest survey gives more comprehensive results, and we’ll look to that in addition to our check station harvest numbers to see if we need to make adjustments to hunting regulations down the road,” said Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 Wildlife Manager. “The lower elk and whitetail harvest numbers at the Bonner station are telling us that’s one spot where we’ll want to take an extra close look.”
FWP reports that overall the region’s three hunter check stations saw 245 elk, 99 mule deer, 483 white-tailed deer, four black bears, one moose, three bighorn sheep and two wolves.