Big Game Hunting Season Down to Final Weeks

The rut has arrived for white-tail deer across the region

Big game hunting season is down to the final two weekends across Montana, and hunters are hoping for some help from Mother Nature and the rut.

The general hunting season ends Nov. 26. The rut has arrived for white-tail deer across the region, which could benefit hunters along with fresh snow providing clear signs of animals moving around the mountains.

Hunters are reminded that only antlered buck whitetails are legal on a general license until the last week of the season. From Nov. 20-26, 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.

Overall hunter numbers and the percentage of hunters with game were below last year’s numbers at the five game check stations in Region 1 for the fourth weekend of the season. Hunter numbers are only slightly below last year after considering all the check stations combined. The percentage of hunters with game was 6.8 percent, compared to 9.1 percent last year.

The number of elk that passed through the check stations was the same as last year at 58. The number of mule deer and whitetail bucks is down this year, with 366 whitetail bucks and 26 mule deer bucks being harvested, compared to 483 whitetails and 109 and mule deer bucks last year.

“Stalking conditions are challenging right now” said Neil Anderson, regional wildlife manager. “The snow conditions make for noisy walking, but we are starting to see some older age bucks come through the check stations. Hunters are reporting seeing bucks sparring and rubbing antlers on trees. The necks of a few bucks are starting to look swollen, which happens with the onset of rut. We are also starting to see a few more mature bucks coming through the check station.”

Wolf hunting season ends March 15. Wolf trapping season starts Dec. 15 and ends Feb. 28. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will hold a wolf trapper certification class on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the FWP Headquarters on North Meridian Road in Kalispell.  This one-time certification is free and required for all wolf trappers in Montana. Individuals that have been certified in years past do not need to take the class again.

Unfortunate hunting news did arrive last week with the discovery of chronic wasting disease for the first time in Montana. The deer was killed in an area with a mixture of private and public land 10 miles southeast of Bridger. A second sample collected from the animal is being sent to the lab at Colorado State University for further testing, with results expected this week.

If the result is positive, it would mark the first time CWD has appeared in wild deer, elk or moose in Montana. CWD is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

In accordance with the response plan, FWP director Martha Williams assembled an incident command team to respond to the detection.