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Slow season start for elk hunters in west-central Montana

NW MT hunter check station
Posted at 3:57 PM, Nov 01, 2021

MISSOULA — West-central Montana hunter check stations show that elk harvest is off to a slow start after the first two weekends of big game season, but hunter traffic through the stations is up from last season.

The number of hunter trips through the Darby, Bonner and Anaconda check stations totaled 3,387 for the first two weekends of the season, up 8% from this point in the 2020 season. Those hunters checked enough deer to keep deer harvest on track with last year, while the 92 elk reported so far marks a five-year low.

At the check station near Darby, the tally of 59 elk is 31% lower than last season at this point. The 18 elk checked through the Bonner station is on par with last year, but lower than previous years in the past five-year period, while the Anaconda check station tally of 15 elk is down slightly from recent years.

“As we know, the lack of snow and relatively warm temps really make it hard for hunters to find elk,” said Mike Thompson, FWP Missoula-based wildlife manager. “If we see our weather change, those harvest numbers should start to track up, because hunting opportunities and regulations have remained similar over the past few seasons.”

The mule deer harvest of 30 so far this season sits just a bit above average, while the white-tailed deer harvest of 86 is on track with last year and just below the five-year average.

White-tailed deer harvest reported at the Darby station was 17 in the first two weekends of the season, compared with 15 and 18 in 2020 and 2019. At Bonner, the white-tailed deer harvest sits at 67, compared to 60 and 81 in the previous two years. At the Anaconda check station, hunters presented only two white-tailed deer, compared with 12 and 14 in 2020 and 2019.

The Fish Creek hunter check station in Mineral County west of Missoula 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, according to FWP. At the Fish Creek station, biologist Liz Bradley checked 355 hunters through the first two weekends with a harvest of three white-tailed deer.

Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals. The general big game season runs through Sunday, Nov. 28.