Hunters took to the field Saturday and Sunday across Northwest Montana for the opening of the 2017 general deer and elk season. At five northwest Montana check stations, a total of 3041 hunters check 278 white-tailed deer (132 were bucks), 4 mule deer, and 22 elk for a 10.0 percent rate of check station hunters with game. This compares to 3138 hunters and a 12.7 percent rate of hunters with game at check stations last year for opening weekend.
Overall, the number of hunters visiting check stations this year was slightly lower than last year, however, there was a lot a variability in participation at individual check stations. Only slightly fewer hunters visited the Highway 2 check station west of Kalispell compared to last year. Thirty-nine more hunters went through the Swan check station on Highway 83 compared to last year, but the Olney check station saw the biggest increase in hunter numbers, checking 82 more than in 2016. Both the Canoe Gulch and Thompson Falls check stations saw decreases in hunter visiting check stations. According to Bruce Sterling, the FWP biologist in Thompson Falls, the numbers were unusually low. “I haven’t had this few hunters through the check station in a really long time”. Poor weather on Sunday, hunters deciding to go to other areas are a few of the possible reasons for seeing fewer hunters in some areas compared to others.
The Swan and Olney check stations had the strongest results with 15.2 and 11.7 percent of the hunters with game. Mule deer harvest was down considerably from the previous 7 years. “We don’t think mule deer numbers have changed significantly over last year” says Neil Anderson, FWP Region 1 Wildlife Manager. “We still have 5 weeks to of the general season left. The differences we observed in both hunter numbers and in some game numbers, like mule deer, may level out over the remainder of the season. Overall, the percentage of people with game is really quite good for northwest Montana.”
Hunters are reminded that the ability to harvest antlerless whitetails on a general license extend through this Friday, October 27th. Starting Saturday, October 28th only antlered buck whitetails are legal on a general license, until the last week of the season. From November 20-26th, hunters can harvest an antlerless whitetail on private property (excluding corporate timber lands) on a general license. Apprentice and youth hunters under the age of 16 can harvest antlerless whitetails all season long.
Mule deer are buck only and elk are brow-tine bull only. Check the Montana hunting regulations for the district you plan to hunt.