The general big game rifle season opens in Montana this Saturday (October 24).

If you've been to sporting goods stores recently, you've probably picked up on the vibe that day brings. And the change in the weather has definitely added to that hunting season feel.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks always publishes their annual forecasts for big game, region by region. And while this year's data may be a bit skewed or not as thorough as usual (there's that coronavirus at work again), we thought you might like to see some figures that Montana FWP did release prior to the season opener. And since we are Missoula-based, let's look at western Montana today:

Elk aerial surveys in western Montana were interrupted by the COVID virus this spring. While counts were completed in the Upper Clark Fork before the COVID shutdown, elk counts using aircraft were not done in the rest of Region 2. Upper Clark Fork elk were found in good numbers, including the reappearances of elk that had been missing in the 2019 counts due to the hard winter. The mild winter of 2020 contributed to a rebound in overwinter calf survival, which was observed widely across Region 2, whether documented using aircraft or in ground surveys conducted in most of the region.

White-tailed deer numbers have been on an upward trend in general, but previous hard winters have dampened fawn survival. The mild winter in 2020 was a welcome relief and fawn production looks good this summer. Good moisture and excellent forage production should benefit all deer.

Opportunities to hunt mule deer are somewhat limited in western Montana. Many districts require a permit or B-license, awarded through the statewide application and drawing process earlier this year. Mule deer hunters should plan to go high in the mountains for the best opportunity at bigger bucks. An emerging opportunity for hunters in Region 2 is to hunt mule deer on private lands, where numbers generally are growing. Again, pay close attention to the regulations to make sure you are properly licensed to hunt mule deer.

We know all of you look great in orange! Here's to a safe, fun and successful season opener.