Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said check stations in South Central Montana are seeing low hunter numbers and low harvest numbers for the 2019 big game season.

Check stations in Laurel and Columbus said the number of hunters who stopped at the check station this year are the lowest on record. The three other locations in Billings, Lavina and Big Timber also reported numbers well below average. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the winter weather over the last five weeks may have influenced hunter participation this year. 

However, Schafer's Wild Game Processing in Billings said business has never been better. Owner Chadre Reichert said her numbers have been up all season, almost double each week with the exception of the fifth weekend.

Reichert said, "We're busy every year, you know. I would say in the last five years, this is our biggest year."

Reichert said in the last few years they have started seeing a lot of the younger hunters again, people in their twenties and later teens. She said it's encouraging.

Reichert said some hunters tell her the game check stations are closed by the time they are done with the day's hunt. She said that may explain why the check stations are seeing such a low number of hunters.

Bob Gibson of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the check stations were generally open on the weekends only during the season. Additionally, he said a couple of stations were open only on Sundays on some of the weekends. However, he said the schedule of the check stations is identical year after year with the exception of the Billings check station, so the statistics are apples to apples. 

Gibson also said the Centers for Disease Control recommend having your meat tested for Chronic Wasting Disease if you harvest the animal in an area known to have CWD. He said the Centers for Disease Control recommends not eating the meat if it tests positive for CWD.

If you want to have your animal tested for CWD, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has instructions on their website.

Gibson said the animals that can carry CWD in Montana are elk, moose, white-tailed deer and mule deer. He said there is no known transfer of the disease to humans. 

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