Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That's a wrap

Unfortunately I'm not wrapping anything up, as in meat, after this hunting season. In one of my slowest hunting season's in my short career, I failed to bring home the bacon so to speak. I have been lucky in the previous 7 seasons to put some meat in the freezer come Fall. Whether it was antelope, elk or deer, one of those varieties has become a regular in my freezer in the garage. As I eat the remaining packages of game, it will likely only see the graces of Otter Pops and corn dogs until next fall.

Here's a recent article from the Missoulian about the hunting season. Seems they are citing weather as one of the big factors. Not too much mention of predation, more to come on that I'm sure.

The big game played hard to get this fall as the 2012 general hunting season ended Sunday.
Hunter success in Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 remained at 7.8 percent for the five-week season, roughly the same as it’s been for the past five years. But changes in license rules and tricky weather pushed both hunters and wildlife into different places this year.

“The first week of the season was cold and snowy, and the third week was really cold, but it was really erratic,” said FWP biologist Ray Vinkey, who monitored the department’s Anaconda game check station. “Some hunters were able to capitalize on it, and some weren’t.”

Steep reductions in elk permits for the Bitterroot Valley also shrunk hunter numbers by a quarter at the Darby check station. But the 6,094 people who tried over the season racked up an 8.5 percent success rate, compared with the five-year average of 7.3 percent.

Anaconda’s hunter numbers also were down, but those who went out came back with almost the same number of whitetail and mule deer as last year. Elk numbers dropped from 90 in 2011 to 56 in 2012, but so did the number of antlerless elk permits allowed in the area.

At the Bonner check station, hunter numbers were almost unchanged, at 6,518. They brought through 497 elk, whitetail and mule deer, compared with 510 total kills last year. Regionwide, hunter participation was down about 30 percent compared to the five-year average.

“What we’ve done is restricted hunter harvest of does and cows particularly, and even bucks to some extent,” FWP Region 2 wildlife manager Mike Thompson said. “We’re trying to really bounce those populations back to overcome predation. And hand in hand, we’ll be trying to achieve a higher harvest of bears, lions and wolves that we’ve been working toward. Whitetails are seeming to make us smile a little bit – things are tracking in the right direction there. And at least we don’t seem to be losing ground with elk in a number of places.”
Opportunities did open up along the Rocky Mountain Front, where FWP Region 4 biologist Brent Lonner said nearly one in four hunters went home happy.
“The weather in the first week of the season bumped a lot of elk into the Sun River Game Range early,” Lonner said. “They took 135 elk out of that district, and that’s more elk than we’ve taken in the last three years combined.”
Region 4 hunter numbers also were up 20 percent over last year. Lonner said in addition to the helpful weather, word of the success rate apparently drew visiting hunters from throughout Montana to the Front.
“For deer, our whitetail numbers are just slightly above average,” Lonner said. “There’s a lot of whitetails around here, and I think landowners are getting more open to whitetail hunting to reduce numbers on their land.”
In northwest Montana’s Region 1, the whitetail and mule deer harvest was slightly above last year’s. The 17,635 hunters who passed through the region’s six check stations brought 941 whitetails, 131 mule deer and 78 elk, for a total 6.5 percent success rate. Last year’s success rate was 6.1 percent.
That worked out to a 10 percent boost in whitetail harvest, 27 percent boost for mulies and 36 percent decline for elk, according to Region 1 wildlife manager Jim Williams. A higher number of young whitetail bucks checked this year indicates growth in the population, he said.
This was the first year of FWP’s biennial regulation period. After the 2013 season, department biologists will use the combined results to set permit quotas and hunting district rules for the 2014-15 biennium. Thompson said if population trends continue to improve, more opportunities could open up.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank hunters for their advocacy to take care of the deer and elk resource when they see it declining, and their support of the regulations that help stem that tide and bounce these populations back,” Thompson said. “It’s impressive to see these hunters take responsibility for their resource and demand good, sound management on our part.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

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