The number of hunters who stopped at Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ south central Montana check stations during the second weekend of the 2021 rifle hunting season generally were near historic lows. The exception was at Lavina, where hunter traffic and harvested animal numbers were the highest in recent history.
Weather throughout the region was cool and sunny over the weekend, making for all around favorable hunting conditions.
FWP’s south central Montana check stations were closed in 2020 because of COVID-19, so all comparisons are to 2019, the last time the stations were open.
Here are some details from the four FWP check stations in south central Montana:
A record low number of hunters and harvested mule deer along with only a few white-tailed deer and one elk made for a very slow second weekend of the general hunting season at FWP’s Columbus check station.
FWP wildlife biologist Sean Stewart checked 78 hunters over the weekend, a record low for the weekend and below the 110 checked on the same weekend in 2019. Hunters checked nine mule deer, the same as in 2019, which is a record low. Hunters brought in nine white-tailed deer, down from 21 two years ago and 52 percent below the long-term average.
Just 25 percent of hunters who stopped at Columbus had an animal to check – some of which were harvested in other areas of Montana. In 2019, 32 percent of hunters had game. For the season to date, 35 percent of hunters who stopped at Columbus had game, which is equal to the long-term average.
A record-low number of hunters stopped at FWP’s Big Timber check station on Sunday, the second weekend of Montana’s general hunting season. And the number of all harvested big-game species checked also was at a record low.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said that the low numbers were not reflected in conversations with hunters, many of whom cited crowding on the region’s public lands.
He checked 55 hunters on Sunday, down from 147 in 2019. Those hunters had seven white-tailed deer, down from 22 in 1019, and eight mule deer, down from 27 two years ago. The elk harvest for the year so far is above average, though for the weekend, just six hunters had harvested an elk, down from 10 in 2019. Of the hunters who stopped, 40 percent had harvested an animal, down from 47 percent in 2019.
FWP’s Lavina check station was the exception during the second weekend of the 2020 general big game season with more hunters and harvested game than two years ago and more than the long-term average.
Wildlife biologist Ashley Taylor counted 291 hunters Sunday, up from 186 in 2019 and the long-term average of 225. They had harvested six white-tailed deer, down from eight two years ago, following a region-wide trend of low harvest. Hunters had harvested 32 mule deer, up from 24 in 2019, and 25 elk, up from 10 two year ago. Of those hunters who stopped, 23 percent had harvested game, only slightly below 24 percent in 2019 and the long-term average.
For the first two weekends, the 749 hunters who stopped at Lavina was the highest since 2004. The mule deer harvest of 69 was the most since 2008.
At FWP’s Billings Heights check station, the number of hunters and the number of harvested animals of all big-game species were well below last year.
FWP wildlife biologist Megan O’Reilly checked 109 hunters, down from 204 in 2019. She checked two white-tailed deer, down from eight in 2019. Hunters had harvested 17 mule deer, down from 50 two years ago. Nine elk were checked, down from 16 in 2019.
Of the hunters who stopped Sunday, 28 percent had harvested an animal, down from 34 percent in 2019.
The general deer and elk seasons runs through Nov. 28 and check stations will operate weekends at most locations until then. Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.