Mother Nature to the Rescue

By ‘CAPTAIN CATCHEM’ Mark Ward

Big game hunters dream of perfect weather conditions. And those weather conditions went from dream to reality as snow and biting cold weather blasted most of Montana during the last 10 days of the General Big Game Rifle Season.

As hunting season came to an end last Sunday, the cold and snowy conditions had blanketed much of the state, making it easier for hunters to fill their tags. Last week I hunted with Chip Wilcox from Stevensville. When we headed back home on Thanksgiving Day, two cow elk made the ride back with us.

In southwest Montana the heavy snow was followed by sub-zero temperatures that enabled us to see more elk than we’ve seen during hunting season in the last seven years. During some points you could see hundreds of elk as they milled around the mountainsides and fed. Although they looked very close through our binoculars, they were typically about a mile off in the distance.

According to data collected at seven hunter check stations operated by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the 2010 elk harvest in southwest Montana was up compared to 2009’s and also surpassed the six year average. This year 12,019 hunters passed through the seven check stations with 778 elk, 212 mule deer, and 101 white-tail deer. Overall, just over 9 percent of hunters passed through with game.

Along the Rocky Mountain Front, the area known as Region 4 had an even more impressive number of elk harvested during the last eight days of the season.  Brent Lonner, a wildlife biologist with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, stated that “approximately 50 percent of the entire elk harvest for all HD’s in Region 4 occurred the last eight days of the season.”  Even with these impressive elk numbers, the season overall just barely surpassed the average for Region 4.

In northwest Montana the snow made for perfect hunting conditions. Combined with the rut, the snow brought a strong white-tail deer harvest the last two days of the season. The area’s deer harvest has been low during the past few years. Based on random sampling at check stations, the 2010 season will be similar.

Whitetail deer show no signs of continual decline across northwest Montana. Bucks checked at most station have either stabilized or increased despite a drop in hunter numbers this year. A report from Fish Wildlife and Parks says that biologists in northwest Montana will be verifying the age classifications of checked deer which will provide a clearer picture of population trends.

Closer to home in western Montana, elk numbers closely compared with last year’s. Meanwhile, white-tailed deer numbers were up 30 percent and mule deer numbers were down 22 percent from 2009. Regional hunter numbers were down most markedly at the Darby check station where 2000 fewer hunters passed through in 2010 vs 2009.

One thing is certain – Mother  Nature came to the rescue the last 10 days of the season. Many of those willing to brave the snowy and cold conditions have been rewarded with full freezers once again.

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Bio:  Mark Ward, aka Captain Catchem, is a Missoula resident and radio broadcaster on KGVO. Listen in on his Montana Outdoor Radio Show on Saturday mornings. You can also read Mark’s columns on  www.montanaoutdoor.com. When he’s not knee-deep in a trout stream or perched in a tree stand, you can catch him blogging regularly for Make it Missoula, too.