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Cold opener keeps many Montana hunters at home

MILES CITY – Montana’s big game hunting season arrived with bitter cold over the weekend of Oct. 24 and 25, likely prompting many hunters to stay home a bit longer. Traffic at big game check stations throughout southeastern Montana was down for the opener. Those who did get out enjoyed their time and some success in the field.

Ashland Check Station

“Hunting conditions were tough for opening weekend,” said wildlife biologist Ryan DeVore. “The weather felt more like the typical closing weekend of deer and elk season.”

“At the CWD check station on Saturday in Ashland, hunters were struggling to find animals as snow fell from early morning through the night, making visibility poor,” DeVore said. “Several hunters on Saturday were heading back home and didn’t stay for Sunday.”

Sunday was bitter, with a low temperature below zero.

Opening weekend was much slower in Ashland than in recent years, according to DeVore. Only 64 hunting parties came through Ashland on Sunday with a total of 126 hunters. Thirty-eight people were successful, for a harvest success of 30 percent.

“For the folks who decided to tough it out in the cold and snow, most had an enjoyable weekend,” he said. “Many of them had a chance at some animals even if they decided not to make a harvest.”

The harvest at Ashland included:

5 antelope (4 bucks, 1 doe)
23 mule deer (8 bucks, 15 does)
7 white-tailed deer (3 bucks, 4 does)
6 bull elk, and
8 birds, including turkeys and sharp-tailed grouse

Hysham Check Station

Wintry conditions also made for a slower day at Hysham’s check station.

“The abnormally cold weather deterred a lot of folks from traveling to Region 7 this past weekend,” said FWP Wildlife Biologist Steve Atwood. “The number of hunters that passed through the check station was considerably down for opening weekend, with about two-third the number of hunters as usual.”

“The hunters who did get out reported good success, with about 60 percent of them harvesting game,” he said.

Hysham saw 76 hunters, which is 36 percent below the 10-year average based on the first Sunday of the general big game season. But their success rate was 61 percent, or 9 percent above long-term average.

Workers at Hysham checked:

13 antelope (9 bucks, 4 does)
24 mule deer (5 bucks, 9 does)
8 white-tailed deer (3 bucks, 5 does)
3 elk (2 bulls, 1 cow)

Glendive Check Station

Weather also set the tone at Glendive’s station, with animals hunkering down in the snow and cold.

“Hunters were definitely getting in the field, but many reported that animals weren’t moving much due to the wintry weather – and that they didn’t want to venture as far from the vehicle as usual either,” said FWP Wildlife Biologist Melissa Foster. “As is typical on opening day, many folks were not too anxious to pull the trigger with so much hunting season left.”

Foster said comparing hunter numbers and game to previous years is difficult, as the station was held Saturday rather than Sunday this year.

Glendive saw 47 hunters in 26 parties on Saturday, checking nine deer and a handful of birds.

On Sunday, Foster was set up in Sidney to collect CWD samples but tested just a handful of deer. FWP will be in Sidney on Sundays throughout the season, and she urged hunters to take advantage of it.

“Sidney’s station was slow last year, and it will likely be slow again this year, and if so, we may not be able to continue running a CWD sampling station at Sidney in the future,” Foster said.

“I want to remind hunters that apparently healthy critters can be infected with CWD,” she said. “We heard a lot of ‘He looked fine, no need to test’ mentality at Glendive. This year is an opportunity for Sidney residents who are interested in learning how to collect their own samples to get some help learning how to do so.”

In the northwest, eastern and southwestern parts of Montana, FWP will be operating CWD sampling stations where staff priority will be collecting samples rather than the traditional check station process.

CWD sampling locations in southeastern Montana are as follows:

Hysham (rest area)-Saturday, Sunday, Monday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. or dusk if busy
Ashland (Ashland public school)-Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or dusk if busy
Broadus (FWP office across from Alderman Oil)-Friday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or dusk if busy
Mosby (rest area on Hwy 200)-Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or dusk if busy
Flowing Wells (rest area at junction of Hwy 200 and Hwy 24)-Friday and Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or dusk if busy
Sidney (Town Pump on south side of town)-Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or dusk if busy

FWP is also ready to help hunters sample their deer, elk or moose for CWD at its offices:

In southeastern Montana, visit FWP Region 7 Headquarters in Miles City on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hunters should note that the regional office will be closed for the holiday on both Nov. 3 and Nov. 11.

For more information on CWD, please look online at fwp.mt.gov/cwd.

Big game check station dates, locations and hours in southeastern Montana:

Hysham (rest area)-Sunday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 29 during daylight hours
Ashland (Ashland public school)- Sunday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 29 during daylight hours
Glendive (Hollecker Lake)- Sunday, Nov. 29 during daylight hours

Wardens also may occasionally set up hunter check stations throughout the region at any time. Please remember that all hunters are required by law to stop as directed at all designated check stations on their way to and from hunting, even if they have no game to be checked.