If the first two weekends of the general big game season are any indication, 2022 could be a pretty good year in west-central Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tells us that, while the number of hunters remained steady compared to 2021, the total harvest numbers of both elk and deer saw a significant increase from not only last season, but the five-year average. Here are some of the figures, compiled at the Darby, Bonner, Anaconda and Fish Creek check stations.

The number of hunter trips totaled 3,728 for the first two weekends of the season, which is very close to what the check stations saw in 2021. But the 2022 hunters checked 149 elk, compared to 92 at this point in 2021.

On the white-tail and mule deer side of the ledger, hunters checked 40 mule deer during the first two weekends of the season, compared to 30 last year, and 148 white-tailed deer, compared to 90 in 2021.

All four check stations saw increases in elk harvest numbers, but the biggest so far this season has been the Darby station. A couple of factors might be coming into play to explain that.

Montana FWP wildlife biologist, Rebecca Mowry, said that the Darby station is seeing strong numbers of harvested elk out of the Big Hole Valley. She points out that, “There is more elk hunting opportunity on the general license this year in Hunting District (HD) 321 in the Big Hole, and in general, people are reporting seeing a lot of elk around.”

Because of some boundary adjustments, HD 321 also got bigger, covering more area this year. Also, recent forest fires were a factor, as they improved elk forage and habitat in some new areas.

With a few added advantages, 2022 sounds like it's off to a tremendous start. If you have already filled your tags, congratulations. And we'll think positive thoughts to help the rest of you bag your game by the season's closing date of November 27!

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