By The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
BILLINGS – Hunters finished the 2018 general big-game season in good numbers in parts of south-central Montana over the past weekend.
Biologists at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Lavina and Big Timber check stations saw more hunters and a larger harvest than last year.
But FWP’s Billings and Columbus check stations continued a season-long trend of fewer hunters and fewer animals harvested.
The 2018 five-week general big-game season ended Sunday. For big-game, only elk hunting will continue with antlerless-only shoulder seasons in some of the region’s hunting districts.
Waterfowl and upland game bird seasons also remain open for several more weeks.
Here are some details from each of FWP’s south central Montana check stations:
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Columbus check station was the lowest since 2005 for the final weekend of Montana’s general big-game season. And the number of animals harvested was well below last year and the long-term average for the closing weekend.
FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 170 hunters Saturday and Sunday, 40 percent of whom had harvested game. That compares to 185 hunters, 49 percent with game, from the same weekend in 2017. Hunters checked 35 white-tailed deer, down from 46 a year ago, and 28 mule deer, eight fewer than the same weekend in 2017. Five hunters checked an elk, down just one from a year ago.
For the entire season, hunter numbers and the big-game harvest measured at Columbus were off sharply from 2017. Just 939 hunters stopped during the season, the lowest number since before 1999, and well below last year’s count of 1,007 and the long-term average of 1,207.
While the 27 elk checked were near the long-term average of 26, the number remained 43 percent lower than the average since 2014. The mule deer harvest of 155 animals was 19 percent below last year and 46 percent below the long-term average. For the season, hunters at Columbus checked 136 white-tailed deer, down 26 percent from last year and 23 percent from the long-term average.
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Laurel check station over the weekend was down from last year, as was the reported deer harvest. For the entire year, however, hunter numbers and the mule deer and elk harvest were up from 2017.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 156 hunters at Laurel during the final weekend of Montana’s five-week general big-game season. That was six fewer than the same weekend a year ago. For the season, 572 hunters stopped during the four weekends at the station operated at Laurel – 52 more than in 2017.
Hunters checked 30 white-tailed deer over the weekend at Laurel, down from 57 a year ago, and 45 mule deer down just three from the same time in 2017. Of those hunters who stopped, 49 percent had harvested game, down from 65 percent during the closing weekend last year.
For the entire season, the white-tailed-deer harvested reported at Laurel was down from 96 in 2017 to 60 this year. The mule deer harvest was up, however, to 120 this year compared to 103 a year ago. Hunters checked 11 elk, up from six in 2017.
The number of hunters and the number of harvested animals checked at FWP’s Billings Heights check station over the weekend were well below the same weekend a year ago, continuing a trend from the rest of the season.
FWP wildlife biologists Megan O’Reilly checked 370 hunters during the final weekend of the 2018 season, down from 411 the same weekend in 2017. Half of all hunters who stopped had harvested game, including 33 white-tailed deer – down 10 from last year – and 137 mule deer – five fewer than in 2017. Fifteen elk came through the check station, down two from last season.
For the entire five-week season, 1,947 hunters stopped at FWP’s Billings Heights check station, down from 2,446 in all of 2017. They checked 107 white-tailed deer, compared to 145 a year ago, and 456 mule deer, down from 648 the previous season. The elk count also was lower with 114 this season compared to 158 a year ago.
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Lavina check station over the weekend – and the number of mule deer and elk the checked – exceeded the same weekend in 2017 but continued to lag behind the long-term average.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor checked 408 hunters Saturday and Sunday, up from 351 during the same weekend in 2017. They checked 83 mule deer, eleven more than the previous year, and 32 elk, up from 24 in 2017. The mule deer harvested reported at Lavina was 31, down three from the closing weekend of the 2017 general season.
Of those who stopped at Lavina, 36 percent had harvested game, down just one percentage point from 2017.
For the entire five-week general hunting season, 1,548 hunters stopped at Lavina, just under the 1,571 from the 2017 season but well below the long-term average of 2,219. Hunters had 82 white-tailed deer, just two shy of last year’s count but far short of the long-term average of 200. Hunters harvested 188 mule deer, 10 fewer than in 2017 but under the long-term average of 339. Hunters had harvested 116 elk, eight more than the previous year and eleven more than the long-term average.
The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station over the final weekend of Montana’s general big-game season remained strong, as was the white-tailed deer harvest. The mule deer harvest was off slightly from the same weekend a year ago while the elk harvest remained identical to the 2017 closing weekend.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 237 hunters over the Nov. 24-25 weekend, up 34 from a year ago. For the entire season, 1,125 hunters stopped at Big Timber, up 10 from 2017.
Over the weekend, hunters checked 47 white-tailed deer – up eight from the same weekend in 2017 – and 50 mule deer, down seven from a year ago. Of those who stopped, 47 percent had harvested game, down from 55 percent during the 2017 closing weekend.
For the entire five-week season, hunters checked 157 white-tailed deer, up from 121 a year ago and down only slightly from the long-term average of 163. The mule-deer harvest continued to lag with 188 checked during the year, down from 254 last year and a long-term average of 227. The 85 elk checked at Big Timber during the year was down from 99 in 2017, but still well ahead of the long-term average of 58.
Of the hunters who stopped at Big Timber during the entire season, 44 percent had harvested an animal, down five percentage points from the previous year.