Friday, August 20, 2004
Hunting opportunities for Montana’s upland game bird hunters will be a mixed bag this fall. The season for most upland game bird species begins Sept. 1.
“Severe winter weather over a large portion of eastern Montana reduced upland game bird numbers by varying degrees. Although that is the bad news, we anticipate fairly good production as many parts of central and eastern Montana received timely moisture by early summer,” said Rick Northrup, FWP upland and migratory bird coordinator.
The severe winter in the northeastern portion of Montana reduced pheasant populations to about 30 percent below average, and sage grouse to about 20 percent below average.
The affected area was approximately from Lewistown north and east. South and east of Lewistown, upland game birds faired better last winter, but moisture conditions since then have been variable.
West of the Continental Divide:
Upland game bird hunting in FWP Region 1 around Kalispell is expected to be about average this year across the board. At Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, pheasant numbers are expected to be slightly improved over last year.
In the Missoula area, grouse hunting will be similar to last year, as will hunting for pheasants and huns.
In Central Montana:
In the north central portion of the state, around Great Falls and Havre, grouse hunting will be slightly above average, while pheasant hunting will be average and hun populations appear to have experienced a minor set back from last year. Turkey hunting will be slightly above average, as it was last year.
In south central Montana, around Bozeman, most upland game bird hunting is expected to be about average. However, pheasant populations appear to be below average as are turkey populations.
In Eastern Montana:
In the Billings area, hunting for huns and pheasants should be good. Chukar, blue grouse and ruffed grouse populations are stable from last year and sharp-tailed grouse populations, down last year, appear to have improved slightly. Turkey hunting is expected to be above average.
In the Glasgow area, further east and north, upland game bird hunting is expected to be below average in areas hit by severe winter weather. The turkey populations are expected to be above average.
In the Glendive and Wibaux areas, pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and turkey numbers look good to excellent. Other populations are slightly down from last year due to drought and the severe winter. Generally, hunting opportunities in this area are expected to be good.
Near Miles City, in the southeast, upland game bird hunting opportunities will be above average, and slightly improved for sage grouse and huns. Pheasant hunting is expected to be well above average and turkey hunting should be very good, as it was last year.
“With birds, every variable is important, including winter weather, spring precipitation, temperature, cover, and the abundance of insects. All play a role in upland game bird survival and production,” Northrup said. “As much as we know about upland game birds, there is enough variability across the state that accurately forecasting fall abundance is difficult. Generalizations seem to be the rule.”
The FWP 2004 Upland Game Bird Outlook table is a “dip stick” approach for hunters curious about what they might find in the field. These general trends are based on observations by FWP field biologists.
While helpful, the best way to be an informed bird hunter is to scout your hunting area in advance in late summer and early fall.