Hunter success in southwestern Montana continued to trend mostly at or below average during the latter half of the general deer and elk hunting season, according to data gathered by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists.
Mild weather during much of the general season made it challenging for hunters to find game at lower elevations.
The general season lasted from Oct. 21 through Nov. 26. During that time, FWP staff operated game check stations at various times and locations in southwest Montana, including stations in Alder, Cameron, Canyon Ferry, Divide, Gallatin Canyon, Lakeside, Mill Creek and Townsend. Collectively, they met with 6,112 hunters who harvested 66 white-tailed deer, 152 mule deer and 310 elk, among other species.
Biologists use check stations to collect data on hunter participation and success, as well as the species, sex and age class of the animals harvested. Check station data supplements information collected through hunter harvest phone surveys each year.
The Alder check station was open on the first, third and sixth weekends of the general season. Wildlife staff there met with 768 hunters who collectively harvested 15 white-tailed deer, 38 mule deer and 40 elk over the three weekends. Hunter success for the final weekend was 18 percent, slightly below the long-term average of 21 percent.
Biologists operated a check station at Canyon Ferry on the final weekend of the general season. They met with 266 hunters, 7.5 percent of whom harvested deer or elk.
The Cameron check station was open each weekend during the general season. Wildlife staff there met with 2,339 hunters who harvested 16 white-tailed deer, 47 mule deer and 180 elk. Hunter success rates were at or near average during the season, except the fifth weekend, which had a success rate of 7.6 percent that tied with the lowest on record for that weekend. Hunter success climbed to 18.3 percent on the sixth and final weekend, compared with a long-term average of 15 percent.
The Divide check station was also open each weekend during the general season. Biologists there met with 1,357 hunters, who harvested 15 white-tailed deer, 40 mule deer and 48 elk. Mild weather made it especially challenging for hunters to harvest game in this area. The general season ended with a success rate of 6.1 percent on the final weekend, compared with a long-term average of 11.8 percent.
The Gallatin check station operated during the first, fourth and sixth weekends of the general season. Wildlife staff there met with 345 hunters who harvested six mule deer and 13 elk. Hunter success over the final weekend was 7.6 percent, compared with a long-term average of 9.9 percent.
The Mill Creek check station was open over the first, third and final weekends of the season. Wildlife staff met with 693 hunters who harvested two white-tailed deer, 3 mule deer and 18 elk. On the final weekend, 2.2 percent of hunters were successful, compared with a long-term average of 6.7 percent.
Check stations were also run in Lakeside and Townsend during the first weekend of the general season. Between these two stations, wildlife staff met with 344 hunters who harvested 11 white-tailed deer, five mule deer and eight elk.
ELK MANAGEMENT PLAN
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has adopted the 2023 Elk Management Plan and accompanying environmental assessment.
The elk plan lays out how FWP will manage elk; the EA is an evaluation and summary of potential impacts on the physical environment and human population.
The new plan is flexible and reflects current elk management direction and challenges, as well as being forward looking in anticipating management changes.
“Development of the new elk plan was a long and expansive process, and we appreciate all the public input we received,” said Dustin Temple, FWP Director. “Elk management is controversial in Montana, but through this process we saw people with varying interests come together with new ideas. That collaboration is captured in the plan and will be critical moving forward.”
Highlights of the new plan include:
• Less prescriptive-more objective/goal focused management
• Identification of recommended special management districts for bull elk
• Updated population size goals
• Plan update schedule and lifespan – the 2023 plan includes an option for updates every five years (offset from biennial season setting years), with an expected lifespan of at least 15 years
• Categorization at the local scale by hunting districts rather than elk management units
• Recreation and distribution objectives in addition to population demographics objectives
• Metrics to determine management success
• Averages of counts to evaluate population status
Along with the plan, FWP also released its most contemporary elk counts and associated maps. These counts and maps are updated annually.