The rate of hunters with game in Western and Northwest Montana continues to lag behind last season’s results following the second weekend of the general rifle season.
According to data from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a total of 4,788 hunters have stopped at five check stations across Region 1. Hunters have reported a total of 241 white-tailed deer, including 114 bucks, as well as 23 mule deer and 28 elk. That’s a success rate of 6.1 percent, compared to 7.4 percent after two weeks a year ago.
According to FWP, the number of elk harvested so far is identical to last year and on pace with the 10-year average. The mule deer harvest is higher than last year but remains below average compared to recent years. The harvest of white-tailed deer is below average but is expected to pick up in the coming weeks as the rut approaches.
The overall number of hunters in the field is at its lowest level in 10 years, according to FWP stats. The 4,788 hunters to stop at Region 1 check stations through the second weekend of rifle season is far behind the 5,375 that checked in a year ago, and the 5,649 reported in 2016.
The U.S. 2 check station continues to see the most traffic, with 106 white-tailed deer, 12 mule deer and 10 elk reported there so far. The success rate, however, is only at 5.7 percent.
The Olney check station has produced the highest overall success rate, with 8.9 percent of hunters reporting game, followed by the Swan station with a 7.4 percent success rate.
In Region 2, the hunter success rate was 6.9 percent, below the 8.5 percent from a year ago.
Officials believe warm weather is contributing to the slow start.
“Weather is always the driving factor in big game harvest, especially early in the season,” said Mike Thompson, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 Wildlife Manager. “When the weather is fairly warm, and we have rain instead of snow, deer and elk don’t move much, making them harder to spot and track.”
This is the first year that Snotel stations at Copper Camp (Blackfoot), Saddle Mountain (Bitterroot) and Peterson Meadows (Upper Clark Fork) have simultaneously reported zero snow depth going into the second weekend of the big game hunting season since FWP began tracking this indicator of hunting conditions in 2001.
Hunters’ luck could change beginning this week. A potent weather system moving into the region Friday has the potential to bring significant snow to the higher terrain with the valleys mainly experiencing rain, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. Generally, highs will be in the 40s in valley locations all week.
The counts at hunter check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken, FWP notes.
Hunters are required to stop at game check stations they encounter, even if they have not harvested an animal. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Nov. 25.