Signs point to ‘pretty normal’ hunting season

By: 
DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, October 26, 2018

The Sport Center owner John Tognetti (right) hands a spotting scope to a customer in his store Thursday afternoon. Tognetti said this year’s hunting season seems to be pretty average.

Photo by Deb Hill

Hunting season brings an influx of visitors, and income, to Central Montana, as hunters may purchase food and gas, stay at local motels, enjoy restaurant meals, heft a brew or two, hire guides and outfitters, and pay for game processing when they “bag the big one.”

This year’s hunting season, at least so far, appears to be right on the average in terms of numbers of hunters and amounts of local products and services purchased.

Both the Calvert Hotel and the Judith Mountain Lodge report a busy upland game bird season, with groups of bird hunters staying several nights.

“Reservations have been steady throughout hunting season so far,” said Calvert General Manager KellyAnne Terry. “Most of the hunters staying here are part of guided groups. We’ve had several groups who were being guided for hunting in the Snowies and the Little Belts and quite a few bird hunters. Out-of-town visitors are here every single week.”

Katherine Sears, manager of the Judith Mountain Lodge, said October has been very busy for the Lodge, with a lot of out-of-state hunters from as far away as New York and Georgia, visiting. 

“We were pretty busy during bird season; it’s slowing down a little now,” Sears said.

Sears said she’s heard a lot of hunters are renting houses or rooms through programs like Airbnb and VRBO (vacation rent by owner).

The Sport Center owner John Tognetti sees a lot of hunters coming in for supplies or to purchase items they forgot, and while he feels the number of hunters in Central Montana this year is about the same as usual, his new location makes comparisons more difficult.

“I can’t really compare to last year because we are in a new location and we are selling things we didn’t carry before, such as bowhunting supplies,” Tognetti said. “I can say we’ve had a brisk archery season, and a brisk fall in general with hunters. We are doing more volume of sales than in our old location. It’s going well.”

Airport Manager Jerry Moline reported several private jets parked at the airport, as many as four a day, were transporting hunters and, often, their dogs.

“These guys come in most years to hunt birds,” he said.

Bird hunters have also been spotted riding the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, according to Chamber Executive Director Connie Fry.

“We had some birdhunters who were out by Denton call us to see if they could ride the train,” Fry said. “They were from out of state and I ran into them a few days later in Harry’s Place. I don’t know how their hunt went, but they seemed to enjoy the train ride.”

Meat processors report a slower start to the season than normal, perhaps due to the warm weather.

“We’re seeing normal quantity but not much for quality,” said Charles Larson, owner of Judith Mountain Meats. “Deer numbers are down but elk numbers are about where they should be. When the weather cools down though, it should be much better.”

Rick Knerr, manager at Hilger Meats, said their big season hasn’t really started yet.

“Because we don’t process wild game, the hunters have to take their game somewhere else first. Then they will bring it here for sausage and such. Our flow hasn’t really started yet, but when it does, we’ll be making 2,000 pounds of sausage a week.”

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