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General big game season opens Sunday

| October 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Hunters across northwest Montana will head to the field Sunday, Oct. 23, for the opening of the general deer and elk hunting season.

The outluck is good for whitetail deer, mule deer and elk hunting, according to officials at Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Deer populations in most of the state are thriving and numbers are recovering in northeastern Montana where a harsh winter two years ago knocked back populations.

"We expect to see some good deer hunting this season, and populations in general have been stable to increasing in most regions across the state," said Gary Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife management bureau chief.

FWP's winter and spring mule deer surveys generally showed good winter fawn survival, and good forage throughout much of the state. July and August's dry weather did reduce the overall

quality of forage in many parts of the state, reducing to some degree the fat stores deer were able to build for going into winter.

"The deer are there, now it is up to the weather we get during the hunting season," Hammond said. "Cold weather and good snow will move deer into the more accessible, lower elevations and improve the harvest."

In FWP Region 1, Kalispell and the surrounding northwestern area, mule deer populations are holding steady with good winter survival. Mule deer hunting in northwest Montana is generally limited to antlered bucks, with the exception of HD 103 where special antlerless permits are offered. The region wide average of 34 mule deer fawns per 100 adults observed this spring is considered a good ratio for northwestern Montana. Good mule deer populations can be found in the Whitefish, Salish, Purcell, Swan, and Cabinet mountain ranges.

"Generally speaking, we've had good conditions for mule deer and both mule and white-tailed deer are abundant in the state. We anticipate a good hunting season ahead in the vast majority of hunting districts," Hammond said.

Elk populations in Montana have offered some excellent hunting opportunities the past couple of years, yet harvests have been lackluster in some areas.

"Opportunity generally isn't the issue; good hunting weather and access are," said Gary Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife division management bureau chief. "A recent string of mild winters has resulted in lower elk harvests in some areas, even with the additional elk hunting permits and more liberal seasons available."

In FWP Region 1 in northwestern Montana near Kalispell, elk hunting opportunities look good. Populations are stable with a gradual annual increase in some areas. Calves per 100 cow ratios ranged from 20 in the Galton Mountains east of Eureka in hunting district 109, to 32 in the Lost Trail area of hunting district 103.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Captain Ed Kelly reminded hunters to check current hunting regulations before going to the field.

Either-sex white-tailed deer will be legal game through Nov. 6, in most northwest Montana hunting districts; from Nov. 7-23, hunters are restricted to buck only white-tails; either sex white-tails are legal again during the last four days of the season, Nov. 24-27.

Hunters are restricted to taking only buck mule deer and brow-tine bull elk.

Youngsters age 12-14 can take either sex white-tails, and may take an antlerless elk through the end of the general big game season, November 27

Also, Kelly reminded hunters of the following general regulations:

* Stop at all check stations on your route, even if you haven't taken a game animal; it's the law.

* Upon taking an animal, immediately validate and attach the appropriate tag. To properly validate the new tags, hunters must cut out two digits for the day of the kill — 0, 1, 2 or 3 needs to be cut out for the first digit of the day of the kill and a 0-9 for the second digit. Validation of the month is similar to previous tags.

* Ask permission before hunting on private land.

* Do not shoot or attempt to shoot any game animal from any motorized vehicle.

* Do not shoot on, from, or across the right of way of a publicly maintained road that is open to vehicular traffic.

Kelly noted that following these five regulations should help hunters avoid most problems.

For more information, contact FWP at 752-5501.