Big game harvests remains slow

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Velvet hangs from a whitetail buck’s antlers.

Snow arrived in the mountains of Northwest Montana over the weekend, but not soon enough to significantly boost hunting success rates across the region.

Through the third weekend of Montana’s general big-game hunting season, a total of 6,748 hunters have stopped at five check stations across Region 1, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks information.

That number is 850 fewer hunters than a year ago.

This year’s hunters have checked 320 whitetail deer, including 171 bucks, as well as 39 mule deer and 33 elk. The overall success rate for the region is 5.8 percent, down from last year’s 7.1 percent.

Wildlife officials say mild weather has hampered hunter success so far this season.

“Hunters are reporting that they are seeing a lot of does, but the bucks have been more elusive. Hopefully the arrival of colder weather will increase activity among the deer and elk and lead to increased success for hunters,” said Neil Anderson, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager.

The onset of the rut, which is expected to occur soon, should improve hunters’ odds of seeing older bucks.

More winter weather is on the way as well. Up to 20 inches of new snow is possible in the mountains through Wednesday.

The U.S. 2 area has seen the most hunter traffic, with 3,502 counted at the check station. Those hunters have accounted for 142 white-tailed deer, 25 mule deer and 10 elk.

The highest hunter success rate is at the Olney check station. The 8.9 percent rate is above last season’s mark.

The counts at the hunter check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

Hunters are required to stop at game check stations they encounter, even if they have not harvested an animal.

Montana’s general big-game hunting season began Oct. 20 and ends Nov. 25.

Hunters are reminded that mule deer buck hunting in the North Fisher portion of Hunting District 103 near Libby is permit-only.

Elk hunting is brow-tined bull only in Region 1. Spike elk are not legal game.

Hunters are encouraged to check the Montana hunting regulations for the district they plan to hunt before hitting the field.

This year there are new regulations and carcass transport restrictions surrounding the threat of chronic wasting disease. Because of the discovery of CWD, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has established CWD positive areas and transport restriction zones in both parts of the state where the disease was found.

With the detection of an additional suspect in Liberty County, the CWD positive areas were increased to all of Liberty County, and in Carbon County east of U.S. Highway 212 and the Roberts-Cooney Road to the Wyoming border. FWP established broader transport restriction zones to help prevent the spread of the disease. A TRZ is one or more counties, or portions of counties, that contain a CWD positive area.

To prevent the spread of CWD, no brain or spinal column material from animals taken in the CWD positive area are allowed outside the transport restriction zones. For more info, visit FWP’s CWD information page.

Hunters are also reminded to properly dispose of carcasses. Once an animal with CWD dies, any part of the carcass can transmit the disease for at least two years. Safely dispose of all animal parts in solid waste landfills to help keep our local herds clean of CWD.

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