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Slow Start to Antelope Season in Montana
October 16, 2009.
For the second year in a row, wintry weather hindered Montana hunters on the opening day of general antelope season. Though Sunday’s weather was not as severe as last year’s – when deep snow clogged roads and kept hunters home – opening-day turnout still was considered comparatively light.
According to Erin O’Connor, FWP check station attendant for the Hysham check station (operated at the I-94 rest area just west of the town of Hysham), “Sunday’s opening day for antelope was very cold. Highs were only in the 20’s at Hysham and it was trying to snow off and on. Monday was better--we had a little bit of sun and more business."
"Antelope hunters seemed to either do real well or had no luck at all. We did see two 15 1/2 inch antelope. Also had a very nice and heavy-antlered whitetail buck harvested by an 18-year old who’d been hunting with his bow for 6 yrs. and never taken a deer."
“Weather conditions were not as nasty as last year, but were still bad enough to keep some hunters from venturing out into the field,” according to Jay Watson, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wildlife research specialist in Billings. “Most hunters saw antelope while hunting, but many commented on the low numbers and not being able to find them where they have in the past.”
Jay Newell, the FWP wildlife biologist in Roundup, said many hunters reported that they stayed close to their vehicles because of the uncomfortable weather. Antelope, for the most part, were bedded down against the wind and cold.
Low numbers of antelope and fewer permits than in past years in hunting districts north of Billings also were responsible for the slower-than-usual opening day at the Broadview check station, Newell said. “It was apparent that the die-off associated with the bluetongue outbreak of 2007 will affect antelope harvest numbers for several years to come.”
Bluetongue is a viral disease spread by biting gnats among ruminants, including antelope and deer. It does not spread to humans. The disease was documented in antelope in hunting districts north of Billings. In addition to killing some adult antelope, bluetongue can affect reproduction, resulting in low fawn production.
As a result of the outbreak and its affect on antelope numbers, FWP reduced the number of either-sex antelope tags and eliminated extra doe/fawn tags last year in areas affected by bluetongue.
Of the antelope that came through the Billings check station, Watson said, 56 percent were four years old or older. Only one fawn and seven yearlings were checked, reflecting the low number of young animals in the field. Bucks made up 79 percent of the antelope counted at Billings.
At Broadview, the total number of animals checked was 65.5 percent below the long-term average (1991 – 2008), Newell said. Of the successful hunters, 75 percent harvested adult bucks, compared to a long-term average of 59.2 percent.
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