Wintry conditions make challenging southeast Montana opener

MILES CITY – Cold, wet weather settled into southeast Montana on Saturday and Sunday, making for a challenging opening weekend of the general hunting season.

Traffic was a bit slower than usual at area check stations Sunday, and harvest success rates were down a bit due to winter weather conditions. But for the most part, hunters took the weather in stride and looked forward to more time in the field.

Hysham check station

Even with the cold and wet weather, most of the metrics for the Hysham check station were on pace with previous general season openers, according to wildlife biologist Steve Atwood. Crews visited with 65 hunting parties and 138 hunters, with both totals slightly above the 10-year average. Hunters brought through 15 antelope – 11 bucks, 4 does/fawns – which is right at the 10-year average. Twenty-two mule deer were checked, with 15 bucks and seven does. Of the nine whitetails checked, there were eight bucks and one doe. Again, the harvest rates for mule deer and white-tailed deer were very close to average for this point in the hunting season.

The birds hunters who endured the cold, wet weather seemed to do fairly well.

Ashland check station

Ashland’s check station saw 156 hunters, with 33 bagging game for a success rate of 22 percent. Eighteen antelope, two elk, 10 mule deer and three white-tailed deer were checked.

“Saturday’s opening day had better weather conditions than Sunday, but it was still a bit cold and rainy,” said wildlife biologist Emily Mitchell. “It was rainy and snowy, and some areas saw white-out conditions Sunday. Many hunters packed up and went home early.”

Hunting conditions were reported as more difficult than normal, Mitchell said, due to the weather and lower deer numbers this year, but hunters were in good spirits, and many were planning to come back later in the season.

Glendive check station

Cold and misty conditions also made for a slow opening weekend check station at Glendive.

“We checked 31 parties, with a total of 32 deer hunters and 21 bird hunters,” said wildlife biologist Melissa Foster.

Of those deer hunters, 13 were successful, and 16 bird hunters bagged something. The Glendive crew checked nine mule deer bucks, four mule deer does, and a single antelope. No whitetails came through the check station.

“Several hunters said that Saturday morning fog made for impossible hunting on opening morning, but some animals were up and moving Saturday evening,” Foster said. “Hunters generally reported tough hunting conditions again on Sunday, as rain and winds had animals and hunters alike hunkered down and seeking shelter.

“With the season just beginning, hunters weren’t too dejected about less-than-ideal weather for the opener,” Foster said. “Most were looking forward to getting out more in the days ahead.”

Hunters are reminded that stopping at check stations is mandatory, even if you haven’t harvested an animal. The biological information collected at these stations also helps to inform management decisions.