The 2013 hunting season in west central Montana is nearly halfway over, and so far things are looking nearly identical to the way they were last year.

"At this point last year we had 529 animals come through one of the three hunter check stations, and we are at 528 this year," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Vivica Crowser. "It's remarkably close, although there are some stories to tell if you look at the numbers a little closer."

One of the big stories is where the animals are coming from.

"The elk have been coming in mostly from the east fork of the Bitterroot," Crowser said. "We saw that right from the beginning of the season, and we are still seeing that. The elk have been more available than in recent years, so we are seeing more elk come through the Darby check station than we have for quite a while."

According to a FWP Region 2 (West-Central Montana) press release sent out on November 12, "check stations tallied 7,712 hunters and a harvest of 266 elk, 74 mule deer, 183 white-tailed deer, two black bears, one bighorn sheep and one wolf."

Crowser said that for the past few years more elk and deer have been coming through the Darby check station. This year, the numbers are also up for whitetail deer at that station. Despite a year-to-year rise for the two species though, the overall haul is less than it has been for the past five to 10 years.

"If you look back five or 10 years, we are definitely having lower harvests today on whitetail, mule deer and elk," Crowser said. "A lot of that is by design. We are wanting to help the numbers of each of those animals rebound in most of our districts. In tandem with that, we are trying to design hunting seasons for predators that also help to moderate the effects on the prey populations. We have more liberal hunting seasons on the books right now for mountain lions, wolves, and black bears than we have had for a while."

Crowser said that the relaxation of the hunting regulations won't come in 2014 or 2015, but may happen as soon as 2016.