Big Game Outlook

Beginning Saturday, hunters can chase elk and deer with their rifles across the state. The big game populations look promising despite last year’s long winter.

The long-awaited day for many hunters is here: opening day of general rifle season.

Beginning Saturday, hunters can chase elk and deer with their rifles across the state. Howard Burt, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said deer and elk populations look promising in this part of the state, despite last year’s long winter.

Many elk populations are near or over their objective and mule deer numbers are slightly above where they were last year, Burt said.

“We seemed to come out of the winter in pretty darn good shape,” Burt said.

Hunting conditions may be tough this weekend, though, as sunshine and high temperatures may keep the big animals high up in the mountains.

Nevertheless, FWP will be running game check stations across the state. Hunters are required by law to stop at the check stations, even if they haven’t harvested any game.

Burt said there will be six in southwestern Montana in the following locations on opening weekend:

n The mouth of the Gallatin Canyon

n Cameron

n Alder

n Silver City

n Divide

n Mill Creek (near Butte)

FWP staff run the check stations to gather information on what sorts of animals are being harvested. Biologists note the age and sex of the animal, among other information.

Burt said the stations help them track how populations are doing throughout the region. The data will also help FWP officials decide whether to change hunting season structures in the future.

Special check stations will be set up in certain parts of the state to test for chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease affecting deer and elk.

The condition was confirmed in the wild in Montana for the first time last year. Multiple mule deer killed near the Pryor Mountains tested positive for the disease. One deer taken near Chester also tested positive.

CWD check stations will be set up along the Canadian border, where FWP will focus most of its CWD surveillance efforts this year. Stations will also be set up near the Pryors and near Philipsburg, where the disease was once confirmed at a game farm decades ago.

Hunters who harvest deer outside the surveillance areas can pay $18 to have their animals tested for the disease. Information on paying to have a deer tested can be found at http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/diseasesAndResearch/diseases/chronicWastingDisease/management.html.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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