Pheasant hunting opportunities will vary again this year across the state, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials say. The general pheasant hunting season is Oct. 9—Jan. 1, 2011.
"Statewide pheasant numbers are expected to be about average in portions of southeastern and south central Montana, and below average in most other areas,” said Rick Northrup, FWP game bird coordinator.
The past two winters, and this year’s especially cool, wet spring, have caused biologists to lower their expectations for fall pheasant hunting. Some areas along the Hi-Line, particularly around Havre, are especially likely to have some winter losses.
On the positive side, unusually heavy precipitation through most of the summer promoted exceptional grass cover across much of the state and good insect production, which is important for chick survival. Pheasants are expected to be broadly distributed due to this excellent cover, and that can make finding the birds more challenging for hunters.
Northrup reminded pheasant hunters to arrange for hunting access to private lands well in advance of their hunt, and if possible to bring along a well-trained hunting dog. He also noted that hunters need to be cautious of shooting hens with limited coloration that resemble young roosters, particularly during the early part of the general season.
Here is a brief look at what is expected for pheasant abundance this fall.
FWP Region 6&7—Southeastern and Northeastern Montana
Biologists say pheasant numbers are expected to be about average in the northeastern corner of the state, which includes Sheridan and Daniels counties and parts of Richland and Roosevelt counties. In the Hi-Line area between Glasgow and Havre, pheasant numbers are expected to be below average, in part because of cold and wet spring conditions that likely impacted brood survival.
Pheasant hunting in FWP Region 7 is expected to be similar to or slightly improved from last year.
FWP Region 5—South Central Montana
Spring “crow counts” revealed an average abundance of pheasants. June moisture may have affected chick survival in some areas. Most pheasant hunting in this region is associated with river bottom and adjacent upland habitats. Hunters can anticipate near average abundance this fall.
FWP Region 4—North Central Montana
Much of the northern part of the region is still feeling the effects of the late season killing snowfall that occurred in the spring of 2009. Last year’s pheasant harvest was 63 percent of average. This year, cold, wet conditions at the start of the peak hatch likely had a negative impact on some early hatches. Pheasant hunters can expect some improved opportunities compared to 2009, but a generally below average year.
FWP Region 3 experienced a two-week period during the peak hatch with relatively good conditions for chick survival. Generally speaking, cool, wet conditions were periodically interrupted with warmer weather, which aids chick survival. Pheasant hunters can anticipate slightly above average population numbers, similar to last year’s. Access to good pheasant hunting areas can be challenging in this part of the state.
FWP Region 2—Western Montana
Air temperatures associated with moist conditions this spring were more moderate in FWP Region 2 compared to further north. Pheasant hunters can expect hunting opportunities similar to those found last year in this region. Good pheasant hunting locations on private lands in western Montana are generally difficult to gain access to.
FWP Region 1—Northwestern Montana
The pheasant harvest in northwestern Montana has been about 65 percent of average for the past two years. This year’s pheasant hunting season is expected to be similar. Rainfall and cool to cold weather the first two weeks of the hatching period likely had a negative impact on this year’s population numbers. Pheasant abundance is also expected to be down again this year at Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area and the surrounding lands.