By Robert Lucke
This year's big game hunting season was a mixed bag, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park biologist Al Rosgaard of Havre.
"From a hunter standpoint, there was good satisfaction with the numbers of big game animals with the only exception being whitetails," Rosgaard said. "Success rates were pretty high."
Block management hunting areas, which were on the increase during this hunting season, helped make a better than usual hunting season for sportsmen.
"Block management provided more opportunities for the average hunter and it helps us direct sportsmen to where we need the harvest, too," Rosgaard said.
Block management consists of tracts of private land where FWP pays owners a stipend to allow hunters access to those lands.
Rosgaard broke down big game numbers and compared them with last year.
Regarding antelope, he said they checked a total of 558 antelope at area check stations. That was about 50 percent above what they had checked the year before.
The mule deer harvest also increased.
"We checked 383 this year. That was about a 29 percent increase over last year. Of the 383, about 80 percent were antlered bucks. That was pretty similar to last year," Rosgaard said. "A lot of hunters made the comment that they did not see much for large antlers this year. But the older-age bucks were there. It was just that antler growth was not there due to the drought situation."
Rosgaard said 50 percent of the antlered bucks they checked were 3 years old and older. Twenty-five percent were 4 years old and older, and they had checked many bucks in each age division up to 10 years of age.
"Typically on a 3-year-old or older buck, we will see four points on both sides and brow tines. This year a lot of older bucks had something less than four points on a side," he said. "In addition, the size or mass of the antlers was less and length of the antlers was shorter."
Blame that on the drought. Nutrition this year was used for body fat reserves with not much left over to put into antler growth.
Whitetail deer numbers were way off due to the gnat blight that hit herds this late summer and fall. The total checked was only 121.
"That is mainly because we cut back on the number of antlerless B licenses and the EHD disease," Rosgaard said.
Rosgaard said his department did check some nice whitetail bucks that had great antler growth. The reason for better whitetail antler growth is that they exist in a much more stable environment than mule deer, so their nutrition is better.
The elk harvest in the Bear Paws was very good this year.
"In terms of elk in the Bear Paws, we came up with a harvest of 30 cows, nine bulls with rifle permits and five bulls during the archery season," Rosgaard said. "The cow harvest was a little better than double what it has been in previous years."
There were 75 antlerless permits, 10 either-sex rifle permits and 15 either-sex archery permits issued this year for elk.
The elk success rates were better this year due to a new management practice instituted by FWP.
"We had a hunter management person who kept track of where the elk were and provided that information to all those who had elk permits," Rosgaard said. "I hope that will continue and improve on the success rates next year."
With area pheasants, Rosgaard said that the check station numbers were down some 30 percent from last year. He blamed that on drought conditions and poor success in survival of young in all but the most stable of environments, like the irrigated portions of the Milk River Valley.
They checked about 700 pheasants this year and 1,000 last year. The 1,000 checked last year represented a little better than average year for the pheasant harvest.