According to John McCarthy, FWP's upland game bird management coordinator, the outlook for the pheasant season is generally fair. Areas that had good populations in 1999 should still be supporting good populations, however dry conditions are expected to result in lower production across the state.
The pheasant season opens statewide Oct. 7, and will close Dec. 15.
The drought cut back the insect population this season, reducing an important food source for birds. When living conditions and food sources are compromised, as they were this year, reproduction is naturally slowed.
According to Kristi DuBois, FWP wildlife biologist in Great Falls, distribution of birds will be based on water available in the area. Pheasant, sharptail and Hungarian partridge hunting will likely be better than last year, DuBois says.
In Lewistown, FWP wildlife biologist Tom Stivers says pheasant hunting should be average. "We over wintered fewer than expected," Stivers explains, "This spring the adult birds weren't there."
John Ensign, FWP wildlife manager in Miles City, says that spring counts were up for pheasants, due to a mild spring and excellent nesting and hatching conditions. The brood size has been good as a result, with larger young birds going into the fall.
"Turkey production was excellent this year, " Ensign said. "We're seeing turkeys showing up where we haven't seen them in quite awhile. The fall turkey season is open through Dec. 15.
In the Pacific Flyway
This year Montana's duck and goose hunting seasons open statewide on Sept. 30.
In Northwest Montana's Pacific Flyway, John Grant, FWP manager of the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, reports that local duck nesting and brood production was down because the wetlands were unusually dry this spring, with fewer ponds to attract ducks. Grant says Canada goose numbers are good, but the full picture on duck numbers won't be clear until he sees how the fall duck migration goes this season.
At Freezout Wildlife Management Area in west central Montana, WMA manager Mark Schlepp says duck numbers will be good and Canada goose numbers and production are also pretty good. "Freezeout had more local birds because we were able to maintain water when other local ponds dried up. Freezeout's location provides it with natural drainage and surplus irrigation waters that helps maintain water levels.
In the Central Flyway
In the Central Flyway portion of the state, duck breeding numbers were generally down because of dry conditions. The northeast corner of the state was the only really bright spot, with good water and good numbers of breeding birds. However, good water in the Dakotas and across the eastern prairie of Canada resulted in above average production from those areas. The parklands in Canada continued to have average to above average conditions with good production.
Hunters will likely find birds more concentrated on the major marshes, reservoirs and river systems because of the drier conditions. Fall weather conditions, both in Montana and to the north, will largely dictate how successful Montana waterfowl hunters will be. Last year's warm, dry fall delayed the movement of northern birds and resulted in lower harvest rates. Keep your fingers crossed for some "nasty" duck hunting weather.