Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials manning three check stations around Region 7 on big game season’s opening weekend reported more hunters than last year, a lot of “happy hunters,” and increased harvest rates for deer. Of course, part of that was likely due to the return of either-sex/either-species general deer licenses and regionwide mule deer doe licenses for 2016.
Check stations were set up near Hysham, Glendive and Ashland Sunday, taking stock of hunter numbers, harvest rates, opportunities, hunting districts, public versus private land, hunters’ hometowns, and ages of the animals.
Sunday was a beautiful, mild fall day, and hunters were in good spirits. The three stations visited with 412 hunters and checked 119 mule deer, 10 white-tailed deer, 51 antelope and three elk, along with several birds. That compares to 2015 figures reporting 247 hunters who harvested 36 mule deer, 19 white-tailed deer, 15 antelope and one elk.
Hunters were coming from all over Montana and from the Dakotas to chase deer and upland game birds.
The Hysham check station saw more than twice the number of hunters as in 2015, with 194 hunters compared to 82, and more than twice the number of deer and antelope taken. Fifty-eight deer passed through, up from 21 last year, and 26 antelope versus four in 2015.
“Hunters seemed satisfied,” said FWP Wildlife Biologist Steve Atwood. “Fifty-six percent had harvested an animal, and 78 percent had an opportunity to harvest but either passed or things didn’t go their way.”
“Of note is that several hunters expressed their approval of the increased mule deer doe harvest opportunity,” Atwood said. “I didn’t speak with anyone who voiced their opinion otherwise. What I heard from hunters is that they’re seeing more deer this year than what they’ve seen in several years, especially in the southeastern corner [of the region].”
That echoes FWP’s positive aerial spring mule deer surveys, which prompted the Fish & Wildlife Commission to restore the either-sex/either-species general deer licenses, plus regionwide mule deer B licenses for 2016. The B license quota also increased from 4,500 to 7,500.
On Sunday 51 mule deer came through the Hysham station, along with seven white-tailed deer.
A family party of four hunters from Stanford was especially happy with their bounty of six deer and one antelope. The son, 10-year-old apprentice hunter Michael Foster, was pleased with his doe and eager to eat some game, but he was having no part of the field dressing.
Several apprentices and participants in the youth deer hunt came through with their families, and many were successful. Ten-year-old Katelyn Frost of Livingston shot both a buck and a doe.
Atwood was assisted by Biologist Jesse Kolar and Region 7 Supervisor Brad Schmitz.
According to FWP Biologist Melissa Foster, the Glendive station was a little busier than it has been in recent years, with 57 hunters in 29 parties. The numbers include some Region 6 hunters.
Twenty-nine hunters were after deer, and nine were successful, taking home 11 animals. Twenty-two of the 28 bird hunters claimed 106 animals – 97 pheasants, three sharp-tailed grouse and six Hungarian partridges. Pheasants were 81 percent young of the year.
“People were pulling the trigger,” Foster said. “Lots of young bucks and happy hunters. One apprentice hunter was so proud of his harvest that he wanted to save the cape … He couldn’t have been happier, and asked us what we thought it would score Boone and Crockett.”
Foster saw seven mule deer bucks, three mule deer does and one white-tailed doe. She said there are older bucks out there, but on this particular day, most that came through happened to be younger.
In 2015, 49 hunters came through with 10 bucks, two does, one antelope and 92 birds.
“Nearly everyone we were talking to said birds are fewer and tougher to find than last year,” Foster said. “We just happened to have a few more hunters through the station. Probably, realistically, there were more hunters and fewer birds this year.”
Foster was assisted by Game Wardens Josh Leonard and Ryan Karren.
“The majority of hunters seemed satisfied with their hunt and game numbers,” FWP Biologist Ryan Devore said of the Ashland check station.
“Forty-three percent had harvested an animal, and 66 percent had an opportunity to harvest the species they were pursuing,” Devore said.
Ashland saw 161 hunters bring 48 mule deer, two white-tailed deer, 25 antelope and three elk through. That’s compared to 116 hunters bagging 15 mule deer, seven white-tailed deer, 10 antelope and one elk in 2015.
Devore was assisted by FWP Upland Game Bird Biologist Jackie Tooke and Regional Wildlife Manager John Ensign.
FWP also got permission to collect several deer heads at check stations in order to sample them for Chronic Wasting Disease. Region 7 has no documented cases of CWD, but sampling efforts are being conducted here because there have been positive results in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
CWD, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, can affect deer, elk and moose and is fatal, characterized by chronic weight loss leading to death.