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What to expect this hunting season, dates

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PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH.COM

MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

From the Pintler Mountains on the west side of the region to the Absaroka-Beartooth range on the east, southwest Montana is defined by high-mountain rugged country and an abundance of public land. Big game thrives here, particularly elk.

Hunting season last year was challenging due to winter’s late arrival, which kept conditions relatively mild through the end of December, delaying wildlife migrations. Extreme temperatures and heavy snowfall followed from January through April, which impacted ungulate numbers throughout much of the region.

As with most years, hunter success this fall will largely depend on when the snow arrives. If there’s early snow, winter ungulate migrations will begin and higher harvest numbers can be expected. If dry conditions continue through the fall, hunters can expect average to below-average harvest rates.

Winter survival trends for ungulates in the Bridger, Gallatin and Madison ranges (deer and elk hunting districts 301, 309, 310, 311, 321, 360, 361 and 362; and pronghorn districts 311 and 360) varied by species. Pronghorn suffered the most seasonal mortality due to severe conditions in late February through March which led to some starvation. Pronghorn are showing signs of declines from recent highs, but their numbers are still within the long-term average. Mule deer counts are also within the long-term average. And elk counts are robust in all districts except 310, which continues to be below objective.

The east Gallatin, Crazy, Bangtail and north Bridger ranges (hunting districts 313, 314, 315, 317 and 393) tell a similar story due to extreme winter conditions from January through March. Elk mortality was the worst in southern Park County. Populations in the northern part of the Paradise Valley up to Interstate 90 also saw some mortality, but their numbers remain at or above objective in most areas. Elk numbers are still above objective in the Bangtail Mountains, but access is a challenge for most hunters. Deer numbers have been increasing in this area over the past few years. This year brought some declines from recent averages, but deer numbers are still within long-term averages.

Hunters who plan to hunt in the Gravelly, Centennial, Greenhorn, south Tobacco Root or Madison ranges should be exceptionally cautious of grizzly bear activity. The south Gravelly Mountains have had an especially dense concentration of grizzlies this year.

For information on hunting safely in grizzly country, visit igbconline.org/hunters.

Montana Hunting Season Opening Dates

Sept. 1 – Turkey and Upland Game Bird (excluding Pheasant)

Sept. 7 – Archery Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Deer, Elk, Mountain Lion, Black Bear and Wolf; Backcountry Archery Deer and Elk

Sept. 15 – General Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat, Moose, Wolf and Black Bear; Backcountry General Deer and Elk

Sept. 21 – Upland and Waterfowl Youth Weekend

Oct. 12 – General Antelope and Pheasant

Oct. 17-18 – Two-Day Youth Deer Hunt

Nov. 15 – Bison

Oct. 26 – General Deer, Elk and Mountain Lion (without hounds)

Dec. 1 – Winter Mountain Lion (with hounds)

Dec. 15 – Wolf Trapping

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