Landmark opening weekend for rifle hunting season

This past weekend marked the opening of rifle season and the Cameron and Alder check stations showed relatively strong hunter success rates.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologist Julie Cunningham manned the Cameron check station with the help of two volunteers. Cunningham attributed the success of the weekend to specific fall weather conditions.

“Early season snowfall moved the elk down mountain,” Cunningham said. “Especially in the Gravelly Mountains.”

Game warden run check stations deal primarily with the legality of each harvest, but when biologists like Cunningham are in the field, they are also busy compiling data about the sex and age of the animals to build comprehensive population information.

Running the check station also gives Cunningham a chance to “interact with the hunters,” she said. “We see a lot of people and hear about any issues.”

Talking to unsuccessful hunters also gives Cunningham an idea of how good the hunt is in a particular year because she is able to evaluate the hunter effort and success rate.

Elk harvest numbers at the Cameron check station more than doubled last year’s opening weekend and 15.3 percent of the total 548 hunters passed through with game, according to the FWP. The numbers recorded in Cameron were the highest since 2006 when the check station had longer operating hours.

At the new check station in Alder, 454 hunters passed through with a success rate of 12.3 percent.

For opening weekend, Cunningham worked with a Montana State University volunteer and Christine Marozick, an admin with the FWP. Marozick is in her third year volunteering at check stations.

“It gets me out of the office and into the field,” she explained.

As an experienced volunteer, Marozick assisted Cunningham in evaluating kills—often cutting into the animal’s cheek with the hunter’s permission to get an accurate age by looking at its teeth.

Cunningham enjoys seeing some of the same hunters year after year. For a lot of the people hunting in the region, it’s the experience that matters—not bagging a trophy kill.

“The hunt itself means more than the trophy for some people,” Cunningham said.

Her statement was echoed by 56-year-old Dale Jones, a Helena resident who always makes it to the area for opening weekend.

Jones brought an elk through the Cameron check station—the 27th consecutive year he’s had a successful hunt resulting in an elk harvest.

“I’ve always said you have to go hunting where the elk are and that’s here,” Jones said. “I love this area—I do it for the sport of it, it doesn’t matter if it has antlers or not as long as it has some good meat.”

Cunningham cautions hunters to always be aware of where they are hunting, and to double-check the rules and regulations for each specific region and district.

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