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Bluebird hunting weather may be on the way out as winter storms approach Montana in the middle of the 2013 big-game season. Hunters in the East Fork of the Bitterroot have reported better than average elk numbers so far at the Darby check station.

ROB CHANEY/Missoulian

More Montana hunters brought more game through check stations last weekend, pushing the 2013 statistics slightly above the mark for the past two seasons in Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2.

With only one week left to hunt deer and elk, a total of 12,730 hunters went by either the Bonner, Darby, Anaconda or Fish Creek check stations on Saturday and Sunday. That doesn’t count midweek hunters. They logged 369 elk, 131 mule deer and 419 whitetail deer so far this year.

Northwest Montana’s Region 1 also saw a numbers boost as 15,061 hunters passed its six check stations with 842 whitetails, 116 mule deer and 51 elk. The success rate so far in Region 1 is 6.7 percent, compared with last year’s 5.5 percent.

Southern Bitterroot Valley hunters reported the best luck, with totals 24 percent above last year’s average. They accounted for 272 of the Region 2 elk, and their whitetail tally was 46 percent above last year. Elk were about 5 percent below the five-year average, but the area has greatly reduced license opportunities there to help herd numbers recover.

Mule deer takes remained low throughout the region. While Darby did better than previous years, the Bonner and Anaconda stations both lagged on muley carcasses.

Overall, Region 2 success percentage so far is 7.3 percent, down from 7.7 percent last year. Region 2 wildlife manager Mike Thompson said those numbers need some careful parsing.

“The hunter success percentage from the check stations is considerably lower than the hunter success that is registered in the statewide hunter harvest survey,” Thompson said. “The percentage of hunters with game through check stations includes many of the same hunters on multiple trips. A hunter might be tallied as unsuccessful on several trips before being tallied as successful.”

Anaconda FWP biologist Ray Vinkey said sparse snow and mild conditions were keeping elk scattered and hard to find. Trip numbers through the Anaconda station are slightly lower than last year.

Region 1’s elk total was less than half of what 2010 hunters brought in, but whitetail numbers were better than 2010’s 754 figure. Figures for 2011 and 2012 were lower for all species except elk.

Region 1 biologist Jim Vore said the onset of the whitetail rut last week greatly helped hunters. The Olney check station has recorded 207 whitetails to this point, including more than 60 last weekend alone. That compares with 118 whitetails at that station by this point of 2012.

Across the Rocky Mountains, Region 4 hunters at the Augusta check station reported good elk success but lagging mule and whitetail deer harvest. Elk hunters brought in 96 bulls, 166 cows and 29 calves, 53 more than the 10-year average at this point in the season. The whitetail count was 171, compared with the 10-year average of 191, while mule deer hunters bagged 238, down from the average 273.

Hunters have killed 30 wolves in Region 1, and 24 in Region 2, with a statewide total of 87 so far. That’s up from 66 at this point last year statewide.

General rifle season for big game ends Dec. 1.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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