With the deer rut in full swing in south-central Montana, hunters were out in fair numbers and the deer harvest was solid in the fourth weekend of the state’s general big game hunting season.
Here are reports from the four Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks check stations operated over the weekend:
Of the hunters who stopped on Sunday, 62 percent had harvested an animal — up sharply from 43 percent during the same weekend a year ago and a long-term average of 50 percent.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 124 hunters, down from 148 a year ago and a long-term average of 145. Those hunters took home 23 white-tailed deer, the same as the long-term average and above the 18 from the same weekend in 2018. They harvested 43 mule deer, above the average of 40 and ahead of the 35 from last year. Paugh checked 11 elk, more than double the five from 2018.
Winds blowing to 60 miles per hour in Big Timber Sunday made it the windiest day Paugh has seen during his years at the check station.
Hunter numbers were up sharply, but the deer harvest was down from the same weekend a year ago. Wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 234 hunters compared to 209 in 2018, but still below the long-term average of 257.
Hunters checked nine white-tailed deer, down from 15 in 2018 and an average of 20. They had 30 mule deer, down just two from a year ago but below the average of 38. Hunters had harvested 17 elk, the same as last year and still above the long-term average of 14.
Of those who stopped, 24 percent had harvested an animal, down from 32 percent a hear ago and an average of 29 percent.
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Hunters reported that, even with bucks in rut, deer hunting was difficult because of high winds.
The number of hunters who stopped as well as the number of animals checked was slightly below the same weekend in 2018, but still well below the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 173 hunters over the weekend, just two fewer than last year but well off the average of 200. Those hunters checked 18 white-tailed deer, three fewer than in 2018 but well below the long-term average of 29. Statistics for the mule deer harvest were similar, with 30 killed — three below last year but 20 short of the average of 50. Stewart checked three elk, one less than last year, but the same as average.
With the deer rut evident, the majority of the deer checked at Columbus were bucks at least 2 years old.
Of the hunters who stopped on Sunday, 48 percent had harvested animals — the same as last year.
FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 252 hunters — a number not comparable to 2018 when the station ran both Saturday and Sunday. Hunters checked 23 white-tailed deer, 87 mule deer and 11 elk.
Many hunters who stopped at Billings reported that they were hampered in the field by mud.
FWP’s check stations in south central Montana will operate on weekends through the end of the general big-game season on Dec. 1. Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.