The general big game rifle season opened this past weekend, and it was a pretty good, yet soggy start in west-central Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say that the weekend saw steady hunter traffic through the region’s four hunter check stations and a harvest on track with last year’s opener.

While some weather moved in, in was not exactly the kind that hunters like to see: predominantly rain with little or no snow even in the higher elevations. FWP's Bitterroot biologist Rebecca Mowry pointed out that in her experience, most elk hunters don’t do well in that kind of weather, as elk have no reason to move and hunters have a tough time finding them and don’t spend as much time hiking in pursuit of elk in wet weather.

But in spite of less than favorable conditions, hunter traffic through the check stations was 35 percent higher than the first weekend in 2020. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP)  tallied 2,340 hunters through the Anaconda, Bonner, Darby and Fish Creek check stations combined. Hunters checked 54 elk, 23 mule deer, 59 white-tailed deer, and two black bears.

The elk harvest of 31 at the Darby Check Station was 39 percent lower than the 2020 opening weekend, due in part to rainy weather and a lack of snow in the upper elevations. While elk harvest was low overall, the totals of 23 mule deer and 59 white-tailed deer across western Montana were increases from last year.

All-in-all, hunter check stations sample a small portion of the harvests across the region, but they do record important trends, and they are a key to see how harvest is shaping up compared to historical averages. If you'd like to get a feel for where the most (and least) harvested numbers were as part of your upcoming hunting strategy, you can get more detailed information on opening weekend harvest numbers here.

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