Hunters struggled a bit to find game in the Bitterroot through the second week of the state's general big-game season.

"Things have really slowed down," said Craig Jourdonnais, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bitterroot-based biologist. "Unless we get a real significant weather event, this will probably be what we're looking at for a while."

At the Darby check station, hunter numbers are down more than 30 percent from the five-year average.

"It's a little alarming," Jourdonnais said.

Nearly all opportunity to harvest cow elk was eliminated in the Bitterroot this year, which could have pushed hunters looking to fill freezers to other regions in the state where seasons are more liberal.

Jourdonnais said reports he's received from around the state suggest hunter activity in general is a little lower than normal this year.

In the second week of the season, Jourdonnais said 1,653 hunters came through the Darby check station with 54 elk, 16 mule deer and 18 white-tailed deer.

There were also three black bear, one bighorn sheep, two moose and one mountain goat that came through the station.

Elk hunters are finding their game in a variety of different elevations and habitats in the Bitterroot.

"The harvest is not concentrated at all," Jourdonnais said. "Hunters are picking off elk in the upper Bitterroot all over the place. That leaves me to believe the elk are scattered. It's not like you have to go to the top of the mountain to find them."

There has been a quieting of elk harvest from the Big Hole, which was where most of the early season success occurred.

"I'm surprised that there are still elk in the northern end of the Big Hole," Jourdonnais said. "We really haven't seen any indication of elk making a big push to move out of the Big Hole yet."

The West Fork of the Bitterroot has been very quiet in terms of elk harvest this past week. Jourdonnais said one bull and one cow were taken over the entire week.

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With fresh snow falling, hunting conditions should continue to improve.

"As far as hunting conditions go, it's great right now," he said. "It would be a great day to be out there right now."

In west-central Montana, elk harvest totals are on par with the first two weeks of the 2009 season. Mule deer harvest lags 14 percent behind last year. White-tail harvest numbers are up 7 percent.

So far this season, 8,281 hunters passed through the region's three check stations with 302 elk, 91 mule deer and 194 white-tailed deer. Last year at the same point in the season, 9,461 hunters reported 305 elk, 106 mule deer and 182 white-tailed deer.

In the eastern part of the region, the Anaconda check station had a slow week but hunter participation is up from last year and harvest is comparable for elk and deer with 1,069 hunters, 41 elk, 8 mule deer and nine white-tailed deer tallied so far.

At the check station near Bonner, which mainly measures hunter harvest in the Blackfoot Valley, hunter numbers and harvest rates were comparable to 2009. The station tallied 56 elk through week two compared to 69 last year. Hunters checked 43 mule deer at Bonner - the same number as in 2009 - and 123 white-tailed deer compared to last year's 129.

At the six northwest Montana check stations through Sunday, a total of 8,262 hunters checked 285 white-tailed deer (218 of these were bucks), 60 mule deer and 66 elk for a 5 percent rate of hunters with game.

The counts at the six northwest Montana check stations represent a sampling of the harvest and do not represent the complete number of animals taken.

FWP wildlife manager Jim Williams said whitetail harvest remains slow at most check stations.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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