Hunting check-ins still lagging

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A bull elk poses on a Forest Service Road last week.

Game was hard to come by for many Region 1 hunters last weekend, even as snow blanketed Northwest Montana.

Overall, hunter numbers are slightly below last year at this point in the season, with a total of 7,597 hunters stopping at the five game check stations in Region 1. The Thompson Falls check station has seen the largest drop in hunter numbers, down over 27 percent from last year. The Eureka and Canoe Gulch check stations have seen an increase in hunter numbers.

“I expected hunter numbers and overall success to increase this weekend since there was snow on the ground, but that didn’t happen,” said Neil Anderson, wildlife manager with Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “A lot of hunters indicated that game just wasn’t moving much.”

With the exception of the Swan, hunter success for the first three weekends of the general rifle season is below 2016 levels, with 7.1 percent of the hunters harvesting big game compared to 8.7 percent in 2016.

The percentage of hunters with game at the Swan check station was 8.9 percent compared to 8 percent in 2016.

“Most of the of the harvest still consists of younger whitetail bucks, but we anticipate an increase in mature bucks being harvested over the remainder of the season with the onset of rut,” Kalispell-area biologist Jessy Coltrane commented.

Elk harvest did increase this weekend after a slow start. Fifty elk have been checked at the five game check stations in Region 1, compared to 49 last year. Whitetail harvest was slightly below 2016 levels, and the number of mule deer bucks harvested was 19 compared to 75 for the first three weekends of the season.

Hunters are reminded that only antlered buck whitetails are legal on a general license until the last week of the season. From Nov. 20-26, hunters can harvest an antlerless whitetail on private property (excluding corporate timber lands) on a general license.

Apprentice and youth hunters under the age of 16 can harvest antlerless whitetails all season long.

Mule deer are buck only and elk are brow-tined bull only. Check the Montana hunting regulations for the district you plan to hunt.

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