Numbers mixed for closing weekend in south central Montana

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Hunters finished the 2018 general big-game season in good numbers in parts of south central Montana over the past weekend. Biologists at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Lavina and Big Timber check stations saw more hunters and a larger harvest than last year. But FWP’s Billings and Columbus check stations continued a season-long trend of fewer hunters and fewer animals harvested.

The 2018 five-week general big-game season ended Sunday. For big-game, only elk hunting will continue with antlerless-only shoulder seasons is some of the region’s hunting districts. Waterfowl and upland game bird seasons also remain open for several more weeks.

Here are some details from each of FWP’s south central Montana check stations:


The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Columbus check station was the lowest since 2005 for the final weekend of Montana’s general big-game season. And the number of animals harvested was well below last year and the long-term average for the closing weekend.

FWP wildlife biologist Shawn Stewart checked 170 hunters Saturday and Sunday, 40 percent of whom had harvested game. That compares to 185 hunters, 49 percent with game, from the same weekend in 2017. Hunters checked 35 white-tailed deer, down from 46 a year ago, and 28 mule deer, eight fewer than the same weekend in 2017. Five hunters checked an elk, down just one from a year ago.

For the entire season, hunter numbers and the big-game harvest measured at Columbus were off sharply from 2017. Just 939 hunters stopped during the season, the lowest number since before 1999, and well below last year’s count of 1,007 and the long-term average of 1,207.

While the 27 elk checked were near the long-term average of 26, the number remained 43 percent lower than the average since 2014. The mule deer harvest of 155 animals was 19 percent below last year and 46 percent below the long-term average. For the season, hunters at Columbus checked 136 white-tailed deer, down 26 percent from last year and 23 percent from the long-term average.


The number of hunters who stopped at FWP’s Laurel check station over the weekend was down from last year, as was the reported deer harvest. For the entire year, however, hunter numbers and the mule deer and elk harvest were up from 2017.

Hunters checked 30 white-tailed deer over the weekend at Laurel, down from 57 a year ago, and 45 mule deer down just three from the same time in 2017. Of those hunters who stopped, 49 percent had harvested game, down from 65 percent during the closing weekend last year.

For the entire season, the white-tailed-deer harvested reported at Laurel was down from 96 in 2017 to 60 this year. The mule deer harvest was up, however, to 120 this year compared to 103 a year ago. Hunters checked 11 elk, up from six in 2017.