This time of year, it's often hard to tell who's more "birdy"—hunters or their dogs. And now, with the advent of Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters opening gates for up to 17,000 acres of walk-in game bird hunting, it's clearly a tossup.
Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters is a pilot program that targets productive game bird habitats enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for access and habitat protection. Landowners receive payment for allowing walk-in hunting for game birds during fall seasons on tracts of up to 160 acres of CRP and, in some cases, adjacent land. Tracts are signed, so hunters can simply park and walk in with no further permission required.
For 2012, 55 tracts are enrolled in north central, northeastern and eastern Montana. Contracts extend for a minimum of five years, with many tracts enrolled for up to 10 years. Funding for this 2012 program was included in the 2008 federal Farm Bill, delivered through Farm Service Agency to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks via a federal grant award.
FWP officials say response from landowners has been excellent, with more applying to enroll than funding could accommodate. Initial reports from hunters are similarly enthusiastic, as hunters express appreciation for new access opportunities to hunt game birds in the fall.
Because many Montana counties have adopted emergency fire restrictions, hunters need to know that some private landowners may be reluctant to make access commitments until weather conditions improve. FWP urges hunters to check in with the regional FWP office before making final plans and to be prepared to prevent wildfire statewide.
For more information, visit FWP's website at fwp.mt.gov and click "For Hunters ". Then click "Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters" to find county maps, search the FWP Hunt Planner for enrolled properties, and to take a hunter comment survey.