Early reports indicated that this year’s hunting season was off to a slow start, but Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson says that although the harvest was down, there were actually more hunters out and about during the first weekend of rifle season this year.

"Saturday, [October 25] was somewhat quiet compared to what we're used to, but Sunday picked up," Thompson said. "It is hard not to imagine that maybe the football game had something to do with the low turnout on Saturday, but Sunday picked up and we had more hunters through our three check stations this weekend than we did last year."

At 2,775, the total number of hunters is about 5 percent higher than the four year average, but the total harvest was about 17 percent below that four year average.  One area of surprise, was the low number of elk to come through the Bonner check station.

"Bonner is down in its elk harvest, down markedly," Thompson said. "We were at 9, a single digit, through the opening weekend. We had 18 last year, which we thought was poor, 27 the year before that, which we thought was poor. We're just used to a higher elk harvest in Bonner."

All in all, opening weekend harvest include a total of 183 animals including 88 elk, 18 mule deer, 71 white-tailed deer, three bighorn sheep, one black bear, one moose and one wolf.

Below are the full results from each check station as published by FWP:

  • At the Darby Check Station, 1,077 hunters harvested 62 elk, 24 white-tailed deer and 10 mule deer, up in all categories from the opening weekend last season. Hunter numbers at Darby were 10 percent above the four-year average, and whitetail harvest was 74 percent higher than average. FWP speculates that both increases might be explained by whitetail hunters making an effort to get in the field early this season because of the new regulation that restricts harvest to bucks-only in the Bitterroot, beginning on November 3. Elk harvest through Darby was 17 percent below the four-year average and mule deer harvest was down 9 percent from the average.
  • Bonner Check Station again led the region in white-tailed deer harvest, with 47 checked on the opening weekend—up from 39 taken at this time last season, but still 10 percent below the four-year average. In addition, 1,215 hunters checked 9 elk, 5 mule deer and 1 bighorn sheep through the Bonner station. Hunter numbers were barely 2 percent above the four-year average, but elk and mule deer harvest were the lowest for opening weekend since at least 1997—according to the figures readily at hand. FWP surmises that mild weather, along with restrictive hunting regulations intended to build elk and mule deer populations in much of the Blackfoot account for the low harvests through Bonner so far.
  • The Anaconda Check Station followed the trend across west-central Montana, with 483 hunters—higher than the past two opening weekends. The harvest of 17 elk was down by 4 animals from last year, and lower than any opening weekend harvest in Anaconda since 2007. The harvest of 3 mule deer and no white-tailed deer was normal for an opening weekend at the Anaconda Check Station.
  • FWP did not operate a check station at Fish Creek on opening weekend this season, due to a temporary vacancy in the Missoula-based biologist position.