Hunters report rut is underway

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A buck stands watch in fresh falling snow on Sunday, December 18, in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Hunting success rates in Northwest Montana remained below average for the fourth weekend of the general rifle season.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports that at the five game check stations in Region 1 overall hunter numbers and percentage of hunters with game are below last year’s numbers. However, when considering all the check stations combined, hunter numbers are only slightly below last year, officials report.

The percentage of hunters with game was 6.8 percent, compared to 9.1 percent last year. The number of elk that passed through the check stations was the same as last year at 58. The number of mule deer and whitetail bucks is down this year, with 366 whitetail bucks and 26 mule deer bucks being harvested, compared to 483 whitetails and 109 and mule deer bucks last year.

“Stalking conditions are challenging right now” said Neil Anderson, wildlife manager for Region 1. “The snow conditions make for noisy walking, but we are starting to see some older age bucks come through the check stations. Hunters are reporting seeing bucks sparring and rubbing antlers on trees. The necks of a few bucks are starting to look swollen, which happens with the onset of rut. We are also starting to see a few more mature bucks coming through the check station.”

Hunters are reminded that only antlered buck whitetails are legal on a general license until the last week of the season. From Nov. 20-26, hunters can harvest an antlerless whitetail deer on private property only (excluding corporate timber lands) on a general license. Apprentice and youth hunters under the age of 16 can harvest antlerless whitetail deer all season long.

Hunters may only harvest mule deer bucks, not does and elk are brow-tined bull only. Check the Montana hunting regulations for the district you plan to hunt.

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