The second weekend of the 2010 general big-game season was warm and clear in south central Montana– not ideal conditions for fall hunting success.
Fewer than a third of hunters who stopped at four south central Montana check stations operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks over the Halloween weekend had harvested game. For the two weekends, the success rate was just 30 percent, well below the long-term average.
Mule deer and elk harvests are the bright spots so far in 2010, easily outpacing last year while white-tailed deer numbers are well below last year and the long-term average.
At the Columbus check station, FWP biologist Shawn Stewart reported that hunter numbers are 9 percent above the long-term average while harvest percentages are the second lowest since 1999.
Of the deer brought to the Columbus check station, 76 percent of white-tails and 42 percent of muleys were antlerless as hunters filled their B tags.
FWP wildlife technician Jay Watson reported that the Laurel check station was the only site in the region reporting increased harvest success over last year. Elk, antelope and mule deer numbers were up from 2009 while white-tailed deer numbers lagged behind last year.
FWP biologist Jay Newell said the percentage of hunter with game who stopped at the Lavina check station was just 17.8 percent, the lowest on record for the second weekend of the season. The number of hunters in the field, meanwhile, was close to average for the first two weekends of the year.
At Big Timber, FWP biologist Justin Paugh reported that hunter numbers were up from 2009, but the harvest was down. Elk were the sole high point, with 13 animals checked at Big Timber compared to just five last year.
Access to game continued to confound some hunters. I appeared that most of the elk checked at Columbus were taken from private land where access is severely restricted. In the Big Timber area, antelope hunters complained of a lack of access to animals on private land north of Interstate 90.
At Laurel, where two-thirds of the mule deer were bucks, many animals were harvested from Block Management lands in the Edgar and Joliet areas. Block Management lands are private agricultural acres open to public hunting through agreements with FWP.