Hunter harvests slightly up in northwestern Montana

Despite unusually warmer conditions for the season, the overall big game harvest remained higher than in recent years in northwestern Montana, according to preliminary results from the monitoring station.

The four stations in northwest Montana recorded 9,624 hunters, 940 white-tailed deer, including 711 males, as well as 90 mule deer and 44 elk. The percentage of hunters with game at the four checkpoints was 11.2%, up from 8.5% in 2019.

In 2020, workers at the checkpoint did not track harvest numbers, only numbers related to chronic wasting disease.

“Our checkpoints have seen a lot of 2-3 year old males this year and that was to be expected after consecutive mild winters,” said Neil Anderson, regional wildlife manager, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “We have also seen an increase in the number of mule deer harvested overall.”

Checkpoints were open on weekends during the general hunting season and sampled only a small portion of hunter participation and crops in the area.

They help biologists follow monitoring trends and collect information on the age, health, and other observations of wildlife in the field. Telephone surveys, conducted over the next winter months with hunters, will collect data and definitive information on harvests.

Athletes should know that the process of setting up the biennial season is underway this year.

Hunting season structures and hunting district boundaries are adopted for most game species every two years. In late September, the FWP released potential changes to hunting regulations for the 2022 and 2023 seasons and solicited public comment for 30 days.

FWP biologists and other staff members sorted through the comments and developed proposals for all game species for consideration by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission at its December 14 meeting.

After the December 14 meeting, a second opportunity for public comments will begin on the proposals approved by the commission for all hunting regulations for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

This public comment period will also include regional meetings of the FWP Citizen Advisory Council. In northwest Montana, FWP will host a public meeting with its CAC on January 3 at its Kalispell offices and online via Zoom.

The commission will adopt the final hunting regulations at its meeting in early February.

The new heritage muzzleloading season runs from December 11 to 19, 2021. Any unused license or permit that is valid on the last day of the general season remains valid during the heritage muzzleloading season, which has specific regulations (described below).

Hunters who have harvested deer, elk or moose this season have until 5 p.m. on December 3 to bring the animal’s head to the FWP office in Kalispell for chronic wasting disease sampling. Testing for CWD is voluntary statewide. FWP helps hunters collect and submit samples to the Region 1 office in Kalispell, Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. FWP will cover the cost of CWD testing on animals harvested by hunters.

Hunters who want their animal sampled should leave 2-4 inches from the neck below the lower jaw and base of the skull to ensure that lymph nodes are present and are not inadvertently left with the carcass. Samples cannot be taken from frozen heads.

To help prevent the spread of cervid encephalopathy, all carcasses, including head and spine, should be disposed of in a Class II landfill after butchering and processing.

Throwing away carcasses is illegal, unethical, and can spread disease, including chronic wasting disease. This requirement applies to all deer, elk and moose carcasses harvested by hunters or as salvage killed by a vehicle.

Contact a regional Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks office for more information. In Northwest Montana, call (406) 752-5501.

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