Big Game Harvest Down In Parts Of MT

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It was a slow opening weekend for hunters in Western and Northwestern Montana, but Fish, Wildlife and Parks wardens said they're not worried just yet. Big game numbers in parts of Western Montana are generally below the five-year average, but FWP wardens said it's still early and will pick up as the season moves on.

Despite a drop in hunting numbers for the 2013 big game rifle season in parts of Montana, H&H Meats in Missoula was just as busy on Monday, as it was this time last year.

"We've been on a steady basis all day, not as much as we had Sunday, and a little more than we had Saturday, but all three days are shaping up nicely," said H&H Meats owner John Peterson.

Peterson said as one of the only meat processing facilities in the area, he gets game coming in from hunters across the state. He said it's important for his business the hunting season goes well.

"It affects us. We have 12 people on payroll. If we don't have a busy as session, we'll have to suffice with ten, and my wife and I will have to work harder," Peterson said.

At the six check stations in Northwestern Montana, FWP Region 1 officials said hunters checked a 4.1% success rate, down from a 5.5% success rate last year. Big game numbers were also down at the three check stations in Region 2, with a 7% success rate. That's down from a 9% success rate last year.

"Probably the biggest reason was the really nice sunny weather, on Saturday in particular, and the football game, and all these sorts of things," said Mike Thompson, Montana Fish, and Wildlife & Parks Region 2 Wildlife Manager.

Thompson said the nice weather is often not the best setting for hunting success.

"You never know what each season is going to bring, and this season started in a certain way, but we'll get a little better weather, and it will be an entirely different story," Thompson said.

He said with snow in the forecast, he's heard a lot of people making plans to hunt hard in the coming week and weekend, so the season opener numbers are not a concern.

"We're not worried. We'll just have to see if conditions improve to help hunters have some greater success here pretty soon," Thompson said.

Hunters are reminded to stop at all check stations they pass on their way to or from hunting, even if they have not harvested any animals. The general rifle season for deer and elk runs through December 1.

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