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Opening Weekend Game Check

After a successful opening day hunt, Missoula resident Dane Regan hauls out his first-ever harvested mule deer buck Saturday.

Hunters across southwest Montana saw moderate success during opening weekend of the general big-game season, while Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wardens issued around a dozen citations in the Helena area.

More than 3,000 hunters went through Region 3’s eight game check stations Saturday and Sunday. Success varied widely, with less than 2 percent success in harvesting deer or elk at the Mill Creek check station near Divide, compared to more than 23 percent in Livingston, although anecdotal reports said many unsuccessful hunters failed to stop at the Livingston check station, according to FWP.

Hunters are required to stop at check stations whether successful or not. FWP uses the information for hunting statistics, but also in setting future seasons.

For the Helena area, 659 hunters went through the Silver City check station off Lincoln Road. Hunters harvested eight whitetail deer, seven mule deer and 20 elk for a 5.3 percent success rate.

“Hunters were seeing elk or fresh sign scattered throughout the area, both high and low and some were successful,” said FWP biologist Jenny Sika. “However, no large herds were reported in the immediate area. That -- coupled with weather -- certainly played a part in our numbers.”

Harvest at Silver City included three whitetail bucks and five does, six mule deer bucks and one doe, and 13 bull elk, six cows and one calf. Silver City also checked in three blue grouse.

“Silver City tends to be the busiest check station in our region, and it still was, but a lot less hunters than the long-term average,” said FWP spokeswoman Andrea Jones.

Hunter numbers near Helena were the lowest in five years, down from a high of nearly 1,000 in 2010. Success ranked in the middle of the five-year average, with a high of 6.6 percent in 2012 and a low of 4.7 percent during last season’s opening weekend.

While hunting was slow in the Canyon Creek area, a large herd of elk near White’s Gulch on the backside of Canyon Ferry Reservoir brought out some unethical hunter behavior, said FWP warden Sargent Dave Loewen.

Elk were trapped out on the flats, and several hunters began shooting into the herd and shooting at running animals and failed to follow up on wounded animals, he said. The herd of around 300 animals caused traffic problems, and one physical altercation also occurred between hunters, he said.

“Unfortunately a situation like that brings out the worst in unethical hunter behavior,” Loewen said. “If I could emphasize one thing, it’s that type of activity drains local game wardens babysitting elk and unethical hunters. I wouldn’t even consider it hunting.”

Game wardens in the Helena area issued around a dozen total citations over the weekend, ranging from tagging violations to blatant poaching, he said.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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