Hunting Season Hits Halfway Point

More hunters are reporting white-tailed deer success compared to last year as overall harvests begin to increase with onset of mating season

By Tristan Scott
A white-tailed deer at the National Bison Range in Moiese. Beacon file photo

Montana’s general hunting season is hitting its halfway point just in time for the arrival of winter weather and the onset of “the rut,” the mammalian mating season during which hunters reliably report more success in the field as testosterone-fueled bucks drop their defense mechanisms in pursuit of a partner.

According to officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), hunters in northwest Montana are already reporting an increase of instances in which bucks are chasing does, which increases the opportunity for hunter harvests.

Meanwhile, check station totals are already beginning to reflect a hunting season in full swing.

According to FWP’s most recent check-station statistics, updated here through the weekend of Nov. 6, overall hunting numbers are up slightly over last year; however, FWP officials have closed two check stations since 2016, both up the North Fork Flathead River and at Canoe Gulch, which has led to fewer hunter check-ins.

Also, it’s possible that more people are hunting during the week, when check stations are closed, or are possibly driving past check stations, according to Dillon Tabish, education and program specialist for FWP Region 1. 

“We don’t have a good idea why the hunter numbers are down because our license sales are not down,” according to Tabish.

Still, more than 4,540 hunters have appeared at four regional game check stations over the last three weekends with mixed results. The overall number of hunters with harvested white-tailed deer is up so far compared to last year, with 339 harvested versus 324, while the number of hunters with harvested mule deer and elk is down. However, those figures are beginning to trend up, with 9% of all hunters reporting game so far, compared to 8.9% last year.

Heavy snowfall also began this week across most of the region, prompting the National Weather Service to advise recreationists to prepare for difficult and even dangerous backcountry terrain, as well as slick driving conditions followed by cold temperatures throughout the week.

Montana’s general deer and elk hunting season runs from Oct. 22 to Nov. 27. Other hunting seasons underway include black bear (Sept. 15 to Nov. 27), bighorn sheep (Sept. 15 to Nov. 27), moose (Sept. 15 to Nov. 27), mountain lion (fall season without dogs, Oct. 22 to Nov. 27), mountain goat (Sept. 15 to Nov. 27), turkey (Sept. 1 to Jan. 1, 2023), and wolf (Sept. 15 to March 15, 2023).

Check stations are open on weekends during general deer and elk hunting season from 10 a.m. to approximately one-and-a-half hours past sunset. The regional stations are located at U.S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell, Montana Highway 83 north of Swan Lake, Highway 200 west of Thompson Falls, and Highway 93 near Olney.

Hunters must stop at any check station they encounter whether they harvested an animal or not. The counts at the stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

For more information, contact FWP’s regional office in northwest Montana at (406) 752-5501.

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