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Montana 2014 big game season ends

Fewer hunters brought in more whitetail deer this year in western and northwestern Montana at the end of the 2014 big-game season.

A couple of arctic outbreaks may have helped push hunter numbers 10 percent below the four-year average in Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 2 around Missoula. Region 1 hunters faced similar weather and smaller numbers compared to 2013.

Nevertheless, the 6,108 rifle bearers who braved the weather brought 382 whitetails through the Bonner check station. That’s the best tally since 2010, and 7 percent above the four-year average.

Darby and Anaconda game inspectors also recorded strong whitetail numbers, with 110 at Darby (up 8 percent over last year) and 22 at Anaconda (47 percent better than 2013).

The Region 2 elk harvest pulled out a strong finish after a slow start. Bonner hunters brought in 51 elk, five below last year’s count and 47 percent off the four-year average. But Darby hunters took 161 elk home, just four animals off last year. Anaconda’s 41 elk were five below 2013’s tally.

Mule deer remained a weak performer in the hunting results. Bonner hunters took 56 muleys, 16 percent below the long-term average but ahead of last year by five. Darby hunters brought in 35 muleys – two off last year’s pace. Anaconda hunters took 15 mule deer, same as last year.

A one-weekend check station at Fish Creek counted 296 hunters on the final days of the season, compared to 340 last year. They brought in 20 whitetails, three mule deer and one elk.

Across Region 2, the 12,075 hunters participating this year were 21 percent below the average of the past five years. They came home with a cumulative 7.4 percent success rate. That included one wolf, seven bighorn sheep, two moose and five black bears recorded at the check stations.

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Region 1 hunters in northwest Montana also had good luck with whitetail deer but skimpy mule deer and elk finds.

Hunter numbers there totaled 16,708 – 9 percent below last year. But 7.9 percent of them came home with game, including 1,138 whitetails, 139 muleys and 50 elk.

Region 1 game inspectors had the most activity at the Olney check station, where more than one in 10 hunters came through successful. Wildlife biologist Tim Thier reported the tally as one of the best since 1994. Hunters there took 259 whitetails, 22 mule deer and 2 elk.

Thompson Falls hunters brought in 20 elk for the best production in Region 1, along with 13 mule deer and 125 whitetails. Hunters traveling Highway 2 near Kalispell reported 476 whitetails, 53 mule deer and 13 elk.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.