The number of elk checked through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Darby Check Station for the first two weekends of general hunting season is the highest it’s been since 2013.
So far, 106 elk have been checked through the Darby station. Last year, at the same, time, biologists had counted 70.
Hunter numbers at Darby are the highest they’ve been since 2014. So far, 1,707 have stopped at the check station that operates on the weekends.
The number of white-tailed deer seen at the station is up from last year. Biologists have counted 18 so far. At this time last year, they saw eight.
A lot of those higher numbers are driven by a strong showing on the opening weekend, but FWP Bitterroot-based biologist Rebecca Mowry said hunters who came through the check station empty-handed this last weekend said they were still seeing elk.
“They may not be seeing as many legal bulls now, or the elk they saw were either on private land or in a place they couldn’t get to, but most people said they were seeing elk,” Mowry said. “We did have a really strong opening weekend and it has definitely slowed down since then.”
That’s not abnormal.
“It tends to be pretty slow after the first weekend until we have a major weather event,” she said. “The final weekend is usually a little busier.”
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Hunting conditions have deteriorated some following a good bit of snow that fell on opening weekend. Since then, Mowry said that snow has either melted or has become crusty, which makes it a challenge for hunters to stay quiet in the woods.
“We had some pretty warm temperatures over the weekend,” Mowry said. “A lot of that early snow is gone.”
Region-wide, deer and elk harvest numbers are up through the second full weekend of general rifle season as compared to last year. The region’s three hunter check stations saw 146 elk, 22 mule deer and 113 white-tailed deer as compared to 106 elk, 27 mule deer and 83 whitetails last year.
At Bonner, FWP checked 1,848 hunters with 22 elk, 81 white-tailed deer, eight mule deer and two black bears in the season’s first week. The elk harvest reported at Bonner is down so far this year, but whitetail harvest is up slightly from this time last year. Overall, the percentage of hunters with game through Bonner is down slightly this season.
At Anaconda, FWP checked 474 hunters, 18 elk, 14 white-tailed deer and five mule deer, which is on par with 2017. FWP did not operate Anaconda Check Station in 2018.
“Weather is always a big factor in big game harvest, especially early in the season” said Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 Wildlife Manager. “And this year the early snow and cold we’ve seen has pushed elk into lower elevation areas, bumping harvest success in some spots.”
Check stations only sample a small portion of hunter participation and harvests across the region, but they are an important part of monitoring trends and recording information on wildlife age, health and other observations from the field. Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals.
The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Dec. 1.