Montana renewed a time-honored tradition last weekend with the start of the general big game hunting season, though wildlife officials reported a slightly below-average harvest.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported nearly 2,700 hunters and 240 harvested animals at its five check stations across northwest Montana (Region 1).
The overall number of hunters and harvested deer are slightly below average compared to recent opening weekends, officials said. However, the number of harvested elk was slightly above last year’s total. Check stations in Olney, Libby (Canoe Gulch), and Thompson Falls also saw more hunters and more harvested white-tailed deer than last year.
“Regionwide, elk harvest was slightly better than last year for opening weekend. Our overall white-tailed deer harvest was lower than it has been for the last few years. After three years of moderate-to-low white-tailed deer recruitment, this wasn’t surprising, but we expect the harvest to improve as the season progresses,” FWP Region 1 Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson said.
The counts at the hunter check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken. Hunters must stop at all check stations that they pass, even if they have not harvested any animals. The general big game season runs through Sunday, Dec. 1.
FWP reminds hunters to review the regulations for specific rules in each hunting district.
There is a change in the antlerless hunts in hunting districts 122 and 130 this year. General hunters can no longer harvest antlerless white-tailed deer the first week or the last week of the season in those hunting districts, regardless of land ownership. Youth 12-15 years old and those with a permit to hunt from the vehicle are still allowed to harvest an antlerless whitetail in those hunting districts. Only B license holders can harvest antlerless deer in those districts.
Hunters are reminded that mule deer buck hunting in the North Fisher portion of Hunting District 103 near Libby is permit-only. See legal description in regulations and legal district booklet.
Elk hunting is brow-tined bull only in Region 1. Spike elk are not legal game.
FWP has detected chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer in the Libby area, and hunters need to be aware of the Libby CWD Management Zone, which includes portions of HDs 100, 103 and 104. All deer, elk and moose harvested within the Libby CWD Management Zone must be checked and sampled within three days of harvest.
During general big game season, the Libby Special CWD Hunt Sampling Station, located at the Montana Department of Transportation shop on U.S. Highway 2, mile marker 35, will be open every day from 11 a.m. – 1½ hours after sunset. Hunters are only required to stop at the Sampling Station if they harvested an animal.
FWP issued 600 antlerless white-tailed deer licenses that are only eligible within the Libby CWD Management Zone during the archery and general deer seasons.