Big game check station results indicate a slower than average start to hunting season in northwest Montana. After the first two weeks of the general hunting season, a total of 4,788 hunters have stopped at five check stations across the region. Hunters have reported a total of 241 white-tailed deer, including 114 bucks, as well as 23 mule deer and 28 elk. The hunter success rate is 6.1 percent to date, compared to 7.4 percent after two weeks a year ago.
The number of whitetail bucks was just 114, the lowest since 2010, when 136 were recorded two weeks into the season. The most bucks ever taken in the first two weeks was 233 in 2014. As an aside, FWP no longer maintains a check station up the North Fork, as it has in years past.
Hunter numbers are also down. The most checked after two weeks was 5,649 in 2016.
The number of elk harvested so far in the region is identical to last year and on pace with the 10-year average. The mule deer harvest is higher than last year but remains below average compared to recent years. The harvest of white-tailed deer, while below average, is expected to pick up in the coming weeks as the rut approaches, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials note.
This week should also bring better hunting weather, with snow in higher terrain and cooler weather. The season started out with bluebird days in the first couple of weeks.
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. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through Sunday, Nov. 25.