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Montana’s general hunting season for deer and elk began Saturday, with lower-than-average hunter participation and success in most areas of southwest Montana due to challenging weather and travel conditions.

Wildlife biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks operated seven check stations in Region 3 over the weekend, checking 2,657 hunters. Biologists use check stations to collect data on hunter participation and success, as well as the species, sex and age class of the animals harvested. This supplements data collected through hunter harvest phone surveys.

All stations saw slightly fewer hunters than the running five-year average for opening weekend, except for Cameron, which checked close to 600 hunters — about 40 hunters above average — between Saturday and Sunday. Overall, hunter success was below average, ranging from 5.3 percent at the Mill Creek check station to 9 percent at the Townsend check station.

These figures do not account for different hunting season regulations over the years, which have varied from liberal to restrictive for elk and mule deer, depending on population status.

In total, biologists checked 15 white-tailed deer, 35 mule deer and 130 elk in the region. Elk harvest was below average at each station, except for Mill Creek. Mule deer harvest was below average at each station except for stations at Townsend and Canyon Ferry. White-tailed deer harvest was above average at the Cameron check station, average at the Canyon Ferry check station and below average elsewhere.

“Typically, hunter harvest success is improved by additional snow and winter-like conditions during the hunting season,” said Howard Burt, FWP’s Region 3 wildlife manager in Bozeman. “This could bode well for hunter opportunity and success if these conditions continue.”

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