Final numbers from the 2018 general deer and elk season put mule deer and elk taken by hunters on a portion of the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta lower than long-term averages, according to a press release from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Only white-tailed deer numbers were above long-term averages, said Brent Lonner, an FWP biologist.
“Mule deer antlered was 21 percent and antlerless harvest 37 percent below the 10-year average,” Lonner said. “Elk harvest was 33 percent below the 10-year average and 30 percent below last year. Bulls made up 38 percent of the total harvest, which was also lower than recent years.”
Whitetails taken by hunters was eight percent above the 10-year average but five percent below last year’s total harvest, Lonner said.
Hunter numbers were down, too: 3,282 hunters stopped at FWP’s Augusta check station this year. That’s a drop of 13 percent from the 10-year average of 3,794.
Lonner said he assumed the relatively mild weather influenced the hunting effort this year.
“The elk harvest this year was best during the middle part of the season,” he said, “which was associated with cooler, snowier weather patterns and stronger hunting effort. Once the weather changed back to milder conditions only 36 elk were checked the last week of the season.”
For both mule deer and whitetails, over half the total harvest occurred the last two weeks of the season, about the same time as the peak of the deer breeding season.
The numbers were collected at the Augusta check station – FWP Region 4’s sole biological check station – and apply only to a handful of hunting districts on the Rocky Mountain Front.
Elk hunters this year brought in 221 animals (84 bulls, 125 cows and 12 calves) compared to the 10-year average of 328 elk.
Mule deer numbered 197 bucks, 15 does and four fawns for a total of 216. The 10-year average is 279.
With whitetails, the count in Augusta was 323 (170 bucks, 115 does and 38 fawns); while the 10-year average is right at 300.
Looking at individual hunting districts, HD 442, which had a quota of 100 brow-tined or antlerless elk, finished at 93 elk harvested (36 bulls, 51 cows, 6 calves), compared to 142 last year and 98 the year before.
Hunting district 424 had a quota of 10 elk, which was reached on Nov. 14. From then till the end of the season hunters could only take brow-tined bulls in that district. The final HD 424 harvest finished at 13 elk (12 bulls and 1 cow).
Total elk harvest from HDs 424, 425 & 442, which are known as the Sun River elk herd, amounted to 165 animals (52 bulls, 103 cows, and 10 calves).
In HD 425, which includes the Sun River Wildlife Management Area, 55 antlerless elk were taken by hunters who held one of the 90 B licenses specific to that hunting district.
Of the five HD 425 either sex elk licenses, three were filled, all on the Sun river WMA.
By the Nov. 25 end of the season, it was estimated 400 to 500 elk had moved onto the Sun River WMA.
In HD 422 elk harvest was 38 percent below the 10-year average harvest with a total of 56 elk checked (32 bulls, 22 cows, 2 calves).
The Rocky Mountain Front is also popular with bighorn sheep hunters, and all of the 11 either sex sheep hunters in sheep hunting districts 421, 422, 423 and 424 took rams. Average age (horn growth rings) of the 11 rams taken was 8.9 years old.
“The reason this year’s data collection went so smooth at the Augusta check station,” Lonner said, “was mostly because of the four seasonal workers there: Houston Thompson, Alan Kinkaid, Laurie Stone and Kerry Bouchard for all their work. Also, some recognition needs to go to area warden Brady Murphy as well as other Region 4 wardens who assisted this year at the check station from time to time.”