Nearly 400 hunters came through three check stations set up around FWP Region 7 on Sunday during the opening weekend of big game season. Overall, traffic and harvest numbers were down from 2018, but many still managed to harvest something on a very cold, blustery day punctuated by snow. The weather was a stark contrast to last year’s mild opener, and to shirt-sleeve temps just a few days ago.
“Most of the deer hunters admitted to not venturing too far from their pickups,” said Region 7 Wildlife Biologist Melissa Foster, who manned the Glendive station. “There were a couple of nice bucks from folks who were willing to brave it and hunt hard. The nasty weather kept most of the bird hunters indoors. Those who did come through reported tough hunting conditions, but some came through with a bird or two.”
Hunters brought 146 deer, elk and antelope through the three stations, for an almost 35 percent success rate. Hunters were generally satisfied with their experience but did admit to challenging conditions with the cold. All told, they took 85 mule deer – 53 of them bucks, 11 whitetails (four bucks), 34 antelope (22 bucks) and 16 elk.
The Ashland station saw the most traffic, with 202 hunters in 105 parties, and 68 animals. That’s down from last year’s total of 333 hunters and 160 animals on the Saturday opener, but 2018 was the busiest reported in a long time by Ashland staff. This year, Ashland checked 36 mule deer, four whitetails, 18 antelope and 13 elk.
Hysham had 128 hunters in 66 parties. Hunters there enjoyed the highest success rate of all three stations at 42 percent. Thirty-four mule deer came through, along with five whitetails, 16 antelope and three elk. Hysham’s hunter traffic was down from 2018, when 206 hunters came through, and they brought 96 big game animals for a 58 percent success rate.
The Glendive station was slow and cold, checking 15 mule deer (seven bucks and eight does) and a buck and doe whitetail. Sixty hunters came through in 31 parties. Typically, traffic is slower at Glendive than at the other two stations, but the weather definitely had an impact on hunters getting into the field this weekend.
Chronic Wasting Disease sampling efforts under way
This weekend also marked the start of extensive Chronic Wasting Disease sampling in Region 7.
“It seemed like many hunters knew FWP is sampling this year,” said Wildlife Biologist Ryan DeVore. “However, there was a fair number of folks who did not know about the transportation restrictions regarding the CWD Management Zone in Hunting District 704 south of Highway 212. When we made them aware, the majority were very willing to comply and want to be a part of helping to manage the disease and limit its spread.”
“One guy even had a whole elk that he quartered at the gas station before heading to Colstrip,” DeVore said. “Also, check station workers just shared lots of education about CWD to many hunters. It was pretty mixed on how much folks know about the disease.”
Throughout the general season, hunters visiting weekend check stations at Hysham, Ashland and Ekalaka will be asked if FWP can sample deer and elk taken from inside Region 7’s Priority Sampling Area, which includes the southern portion of Hunting Districts 702, 704 and 705. Hunters from outside that area also may have their animal sampled for free, but the priority is on animals from the sampling area.
Generally, the check stations will operate on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-sunset and on Monday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. The Broadus FWP office also will collect samples one day a week, with schedules to be posted.
If hunters do not visit a check station but still want their animal tested, there are two options:
Bring the head with four inches of neck attached to the Miles City regional office on Monday and Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Be prepared to identify the township, range and section where your animal was harvested so FWP can pinpoint any positive results for management purposes.
Collect the sample yourself and mail it directly to the FWP lab (video and instructions online at fwp.mt.gov/cwd. FWP will pay for testing, and results should be available online in about three weeks. CWD has not been shown to transmit to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not eating an animal if it tests positive.
There are carcass transport restrictions in place in or near areas where CWD is present. If hunters harvest an animal inside the Southern Montana CWD Management Zone, they cannot move the animal’s whole carcass, head or spinal column outside of that zone. This is to prevent the spread of CWD. That zone includes HD 704 south of Hwy 212, HDs 502 and 510, that portion of HD 520 east of Hwy 212, that portion of HD 575 north and east of Hwy 78, that portion of HD 590 south of Interstate 90, plus the communities of Billings, Broadus, and others on the defined boundaries. Hunters should be prepared to quarter or bone out their meat before leaving CWD Management Zones.
Hunters are strongly encouraged to dispose of hides, bones and trimmings at approved landfills in the area or to leave the spinal column at the kill site (with landowner permission if on private land.) FWP strongly discourages dumping of carcasses or parts near roadways and other areas where hunters do not have permission. It is unsightly and illegal, and if the animal has CWD, the carcass can transmit the disease for at least two years.
Hunters should continue to check sampling areas and transport restrictions on the CWD map at fwp.mt.gov/cwd, as the map will change with new detections of CWD. More information on CWD can be found on the same site.