Backed up by snow and the rut, hunters finished the 2010 deer and elk hunting season strong in Northwest Montana.
The five-week season closed on Sunday with a total of 17,564 hunters stopping at six regional check stations with a total of 158 elk, 159 mule deer and 1,055 whitetail deer (888 of them bucks).
The percentage of hunters with game picked up from 6.5 percent last year to 7.8 percent this year, despite a sharp decrease in the availability of antlerless “B” tags in all Region One hunting districts.
“I think in large part it’s due to the last two weekends and the ideal conditions,” said Jim Williams, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “The last two weekends were the best conditions we’ve seen in a long time.”
Beyond the percentage of hunters with game, this year’s check station numbers aren’t really comparable to previous years because of significant regulation changes. Most significantly, youth hunters could hunt on the two days before the Saturday season opener, which basically was an extra day of hunting after years of opening on Sundays.
Williams said this year’s hunting statistics were buoyed by strong success in some districts, most notably in the Swan Valley.
A total of 3,384 hunters stopped at the Swan Valley check station with 24 elk, eight mule deer and 308 whitetail deer, 260 of them bucks.
Williams noted that hunter success picked up considerably at the region’s busiest check station on U.S. 2 west of Kalispell during the last two weeks.
A total of 5,737 hunters stopped with 43 elk, 39 mule deer and 319 whitetail deer, 272 of them bucks.
The Thompson Falls check station was the busiest for elk, with a total of 2,216 hunters stopping with 61 elk, 23 mule deer and 108 whitetail, 89 of them bucks.
The North Fork check station had 1,546 hunters stop with seven elk, 23 mule deer and 71 whitetails, 60 of them bucks.
At the Olney check station, 2,573 hunters stopped with 10 elk, 32 mule deer and 189 whitetail deer, 189 of them bucks.
At the Canoe Gulch check station near Libby, 2,108 hunters stopped with 13 elk, 36 mule deer and 60 whitetail deer, 46 of them bucks.
Williams emphasized that the check station statistics represent only a fraction of the overall harvest, mainly because check stations are open only on weekends. A clearer picture on the overall harvest will develop with the results of an annual telephone survey of licensed hunters that gets under way in late December.
The region’s hunting success has been down the last few years. While the early onset of persistent snow helped hunters, it could cause problems for deer survival.
Biologists will be monitoring fawn survival closely this winter and early next spring because fawns are the most susceptible to winter kill.
Snow also had potential to cause problems at the check stations.
Williams said Montana Department of Transportation plow drivers were “phenomenal over the weekend in plowing out check stations ... It would have been a disaster without their help.”
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.