St. Mary's Peak

A fresh blanket of snow covers St. Mary's Peak in the Bitterroot area. Skies should be mostly sunny this weekend as hunters head into the mountains, with highs in the upper 20s. Sunday night, a new weather system is expected to move in, possibly dropping several inches of snow at the higher elevations.

The Darby game check station has seen more of the elk harvest than other stations in west-central Montana, with the 112 tally at Darby the second highest since 2014.

Thirteen mule deer were checked through the station, along with 21 white-tail deer, two black bear and one bighorn sheep for a total of 149 animals taken by hunters so far this year.

The Anaconda check station only saw 28 elk, while the Bonner check station had 63.

The white-tail deer harvest in the greater Bonner area continues to be the highlight in west-central Montana through the first three weekends of the big game hunting season.

The total harvest of 236 whitetails tallied at the Anaconda, Bonner and Darby check stations through Sunday is the highest at this point in the season since 2008, according to a press release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“We’ve seen whitetails coming back on private agricultural lands for quite a few years, and now it’s good to see this steady growth in whitetail harvest through the check stations, which reflects population growth primarily on public lands and publicly accessible private lands,” said Mike Thompson, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Region 2 Wildlife Manager.

However, that tally includes 194 from the Bonner check station. Both the Darby and Anaconda check stations saw only 21 white-tail deer. While that’s the most for Anaconda since 2013, it’s the lowest in Darby in the past five years.

Rebecca Mowry, an FWP wildlife biologist in the Bitterroot, previously said that she wasn’t sure why the white-tail harvest is down, but added that if it’s due to a drop in population, their numbers rebound fairly quickly.

The elk harvest of 203 through the check stations reflects good weather conditions for elk hunters with the recent snow. Trent Smith with the National Weather Service said it should be warmer and sunnier this weekend, with high temperatures in the low 40s in the Bitterroot Valley and upper 20s in the mountains.

The chance of precipitation is about 40 percent Saturday morning, dropping to 20 percent in the afternoon.

“On Sunday, it looks like even less of a chance of precipitation,” Smith said. “But there is a weather system coming in Sunday night. It’s another cold front, and we’re looking at snow moving in after midnight. Several inches of snow are possible in the mountains.”

The three west-central FWP check stations have accounted for 5,782 contacts with hunters so far this season, the lowest in the comparable four-year period, while hours of check station operation have held consistent across the region.

With a total harvest of 482 animals checked, including seven black bears, two bighorn sheep and two wolves, the fewer hunters are enjoying a higher harvest percentage – 8.3 percent – so far than in any season since 2007.


Associate Editor

Associate Editor at The Ravalli Republic