On Monday, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) issued its second overview of hunters and game animals passing through the Augusta field inspection station. The Augusta station, 55 miles west of Great Falls, is the only field inspection station in north-central Montana Region 4.
The overview shows the total number of hunters in Region 4 lower than what they’ve been in decades, and total harvest totals below 10-year averages for all species.
“Total number of hunters, both successful and unsuccessful, is the lowest count in nearly 30 years and 25% below recent average,” the FWP news release states.
While the hunter success rate remains on-par with recent seasonal averages, low hunter turnout has translated into the lowest total of elk and deer harvested in Region 4 since 2014.
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“As of Sunday evening Oct. 30, a total of 97 elk and deer had been checked through the check station, giving a harvest success rate of about 18% for hunters, which is better than last year at this time, but still 12% below recent average,” the FWP news release states.
“Elk harvest is better than last year at this point of the season, but still 33% below recent average,” the report continues. “Little harvest is occurring on ‘Sun River’ elk, given the mild weather and lack of movement of these elk towards winter range. Both the HD 424 and 442 elk quotas remain open to antlerless elk harvest. When these quotas are met, antlerless elk harvest closes, but the brow-tined bull season remains open through Thanksgiving weekend.”
The deer harvest is also reflective of the poor hunter turnout. With just 57 animals checked through the Augusta station through last Sunday, it is fewer than two-thirds of a 10-year average.
“Mule and white-tailed deer harvest are 40% and 30% below normal, respectively,” the FWP report states. “Deer harvest has been generally well distributed throughout the greater Augusta area. In addition to the recorded deer and elk harvest, 2 antelope, 1 wolf, 1 black bear, 1 mountain lion and a variety of game birds (upland and waterfowl) have been checked though the station.”
While hunting results thus far remain sub-standard, there is optimism the totals will change as colder weather begins to sweep through the region.
“The slow harvest to date is largely driven by fewer hunters and mild weather conditions making hunting more difficult and big game animals less likely to be up and moving,” the FWP report states. “Deer harvest normally tends to increase in November as the rut begins, and many hunters over the weekend said that they were waiting for the rut before getting too serious about trying to fill their deer tags. Forecasted cooler and possibly wetter weather for the 2nd week of the general rifle season may also be beneficial to improving harvest success for hunters.”
The general deer and elk seasons runs through Nov. 27. The check station operated by FWP along Main Street in Augusta is the only biological check station in Region 4 and is open seven days a week from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends.
Hunters should remember that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Biological check stations are intended primarily for biologists to gather trends and statistical information about animals and hunters.