The opening weekend of general rifle hunting season in Montana saw a couple hundred less hunters out in the Bitterroot Valley this year. Vivaca Crowser of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) said the snowstorm and cold temperatures kept the numbers down.

The weekend count from the Darby FWP check station tallied 729 hunters, compared to 1,012 in 2019. However, there was more success for those who ventured out in the wintery blast. At Darby, the percentage of hunters who bagged game was up only slightly, but in the Region 2 totals, the percentage was 8.6 percent versus 7.7 percent last year. At Darby, there were 51 elk, 4 mule deer and 6 white-tailed deer checked through. Last year, with more hunters, there were 73 elk taken.

Region 2, with the three check stations at Darby, Anaconda and Bonner, showed 1,571 hunters checking through Saturday and Sunday. The stations were open less hours this year for health and safety reasons.

Mike Thompson, Missoula area wildlife manager, said in a news release, "We were interested in seeing whether hunting activity would increase this year like river and park recreation increased, and it appears that it did not in our area...at least not yet. But the record snow and cold for this time of year certainly was a factor. If it warms up as predicted, hunters could find crunchy snow conditions, making travel more difficult and noisier, but we'll have more animals moving around, which is a good thing for hunter success. It's been an interesting start to the season for sure."

Hunters are reminded that they need to stop at the weekend FWP check stations whether they were successful or not. And the check-through is faster this year. You don't even need to get out of your vehicle.