MILES CITY, Mont.-- All things considered—from last summer's drought to this spring's floods—2013 should still shape up to be near to just below average in Montana for upland game bird hunters.
Here's run down on the status of Montana's top upland game birds.
Gray (Hungarian) Partridge
• While no formal surveys are conducted for huns in Montana, various observations along with weather and habitat conditions suggest huns will be average to below average this season. Observations in Regions 3 and 6 suggest average numbers. Observations from Region 5 suggest numbers will be below average and lower than last year.
• Observations in western Montana suggest average to somewhat below average numbers of all species.
• The real bright spot is in northeastern Montana's Region 6, where pheasant numbers continue to improve and are well above long term averages. In this area, spring "crow counts"—where wildlife biologists travel specific routes to count and record the "crows" of cock pheasants to determine the size of the population—were 15 percent above the long term average. Also, consider southeastern Montana where spring crow counts in Region 7, were 40 percent below the all time high counts last year, but still 5 to 25 percent above the long term average. In northwestern Montana, favorable weather in Region 1 resulted in above average counts on the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area. Region 3 reported average counts for southwestern Montana. In Region 5, in the Billings area, pheasant crow counts varied and were near average to well below long-term averages. Overall, Region 5 expects a slight improvement in pheasant numbers over last year.
• Statewide, male attendance at leks averaged 14.9 males per lek which is 48 percent below long-term averages, and down from 19.2 males per lek last year. The drop is likely a function of extreme drought conditions during 2012 which led to low brood survival. The drop in abundance was somewhat uniformly distributed across sage grouse range in Montana. Consequently, hunters can expect numbers to be near average to well below average in all regions. Excellent brood rearing conditions may mitigate the declines to some extent.
• Region 3 reported average to below average numbers. Lek surveys and other observations in Region 6 indicate sharptail numbers will be average to slightly below average across the region. General observations from Region 5 similarly suggest below average numbers.
Bernie Hildebrand, Wildlife Biologist for the Miles City area adds, “While we are seeing broods it is hard to get a count especially on pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse because of all the vegetation. Folks can expect average to just below average upland game bird numbers across Region Seven.”