Statistics gathered at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations over the weekend show that the big game harvest in south central Montana is well below the long-term average.
Though the overall number of hunters who stopped at check stations Saturday and Sunday, the second full weekend of the season, was nearly the same as last year, the percentage of hunters who bagged game was down.
The trend was particularly noticeable at Big Timber, where FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh reported record low numbers of mule deer and antelope harvested and a record low percentage of hunters with game for the second weekend of the season.
Hunters reported seeing few white-tailed deer, mule deer and antelope, leading to speculation that a September outbreak of EHD may have been more severe than thought in the Big Timber and Harlowton areas. EHD is a naturally occurring fatal virus spread to deer and antelope by a biting midge. It does not affect humans or livestock. Trend surveys next spring will determine the extent of the die off, he said.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart reported that the number of hunters who stopped at the Columbus check station was 25 percent below last year and below the long-term average. Those who got out were relatively successful, however, with 49 percent bringing home game, compared to 35 percent last year.
The mule deer harvest measured at Columbus was 46 percent below the long-term average, Stewart said. But the white-tailed deer harvest was nearly double the long-term average for the second weekend of the year as hunters took the opportunity to fill their antlerless “B” tags.
At Laurel, FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson reported that numbers of hunters and number of tagged animals continue to lag behind earlier years. The mule deer harvest was less than half of the ten-year average for the second weekend of the season and the white-tailed deer harvest was the lowest since 2001.
Hunter success reported at Laurel was up to 28 percent from 22 percent on the opening weekend of the season, but remains well below the average, Watson said.
At the Lavina check station, FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer said hunter numbers for the second weekend of the season were only slightly below the long-term average. The number of hunters with game was slightly below the lowest on record and slightly below last year. So far this season, hunters stopping at Lavina had 53 percent fewer mule deer, 63 percent fewer white-tailed deer and 71 percent fewer antelope than the long-term average. The bright spot at the Lavina check station was the elk harvest, which is 111 percent of average for the first two weekends of the year.
Here are some tabulated statistics from FWP Region 5: