Montana Has Low Hunter Numbers but High Harvest Rates

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The trend of low hunter numbers and high harvest success rates continued into the third week of the big game hunting season in south central Montana.

In Columbus, 127 hunters reported through the check station compared to 253 the same weekend last year. However, harvest success was up nearly 10 percent from last year's data.

The hunter turn out in Big Timber was on par with last year. Yet Justin Paugh, FWP Wildlife Biologist, was surprised by how few antelope hunters passed through the check station given it was the final weekend of the general season.

"I expected to see a big increase in antelope hunters over the previous weekend but didn't. Either people have already harvested their antelope or they have moved on to hunting deer and elk," Paugh said.

Big Timber, and all other check stations, reported seeing a number of nice mule deer bucks passing through.

"I saw a lot more real nice mule deer bucks come in this weekend compared to last. It looks like the bucks are starting to rut a bit. Their necks are thickening up," Paugh said.

Brady Wiggs, a 12-year-old hunter from Columbus, harvested his first deer on Sunday. The 6-year-old, four-point buck was one of the nice mule deer that passed through the Columbus check station.

Whitetail deer harvest was 20 percent above the long-term average in Lavina. Antlerless harvest for the first three weekends combined was 38 percent above the long-term average. Whitetail buck harvest was low for the third week of the season compared to last year, but the buck harvest for the first three weekends of the season combined was above average.

Also remaining high in Lavina are elk harvest rates at 56 percent about average. Jay Newell, FWP Wildlife Biologist who staffed the Lavina check station, did note that the antlerless elk harvest remains very depressed even with many hunting districts allowing antlerless harvest or either-sex harvest on the general elk license.

Though compliance with regulations at check stations has been good, hunters are reminded that evidence of sex must remain naturally attached to the carcass.

There are two weeks remaining in the 2006 big game season.