End-of-season figures compiled from the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 6 game check station outside Havre show sharply reduced numbers of hunters, deer and pronghorn antelope.
On the bright side, however, the number of harvested elk brought through the station this year was up 42 percent from the 2010 season and 6 percent above the long-term average, said FWP Havre-area Wildlife Biologist Scott Hemmer.
“Hunter numbers this year have been consistently down from last year,” Hemmer said. “A total of 1,514 hunters passed through the check station this year, which was down 32 percent from last year. Overall harvest was also down from the long-term average.”
The decline in hunter numbers and harvest is likely due to a combination of factors, including increased mortality, especially in antelope and mule deer populations, sustained during the severe winter of 2010-11.
“In addition, white-tailed deer numbers were reduced by an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) this summer and fall,” Hemmer said. “Due to the decreases seen in wildlife numbers, licenses were substantially decreased this hunting season. That also contributed to the observed declines in both hunter numbers and harvest.”
This season antelope licenses in FWP Region 6 were reduced 60 percent, mule deer antlerless “B” licenses were reduced 54 percent, and antlerless white-tailed deer “B” licenses (699-00) were reduced 60 percent.
Hemmer said the largest decline was seen in the antelope harvest, which was down 78 percent from the long-term average. Hunters at the check station consistently reported seeing fewer antelope and smaller groups of antelope than in past years. White-tailed deer harvest experienced the second greatest decline and was down 62 percent from the long-term average.
“White-tailed deer populations in Region 6 have been above objective in recent years, but the combination of EHD and the harsh winter significantly reduced these populations,” Hemmer said. “Based on hunter observations, EHD appeared to have hit white-tailed deer populations the hardest along the Milk River from around Malta to Glasgow.”
Hemmer said the overall mule deer harvest was down 41 percent below the long-term average. Out of that total, antlerless mule deer harvest was down 45 percent, while the buck harvest was down 39 percent.
The number of upland bird hunters and harvest was also down at the Havre check station this year.
“Cooler, wet weather this spring and flooding in some areas decreased nest success and brood survival and led to reduced game bird numbers,” Hemmer said. “The spring precipitation this year produced outstanding vegetation growth, which provided abundant security and hiding cover for birds. This cover helped bird survival, but also made hunting more difficult and may have contributed to the decreased harvest.”
Hunters reported seeing more elk this year, and they noticed that elk were generally more accessible, particularly during the first few weekends of the season.
Hemmer said the other bright spot of this hunting season was the waterfowl harvest. As reported at the check station, duck harvest was up 23 percent from last year, and waterfowl hunters reported seeing increased numbers of ducks and geese in many areas. The duck hunting season in the Central Flyway ends on Jan. 5, and the goose season there ends on Jan. 13.