Tips and insight from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Service

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Pheasant

Pheasant hunting opportunities will vary again this year across the state, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials. The general pheasant hunting season is Oct. 8—Jan. 1, 2012.

“Statewide pheasant hunting opportunities are expected to be spotty throughout Montana this year with average pheasant numbers in some portions of the state and below average numbers in most other areas,” said Rick Northrup, FWP game bird coordinator.

The past two winters, and this year’s long, cool, and very wet spring, have negatively impacted game birds, and tempered biologists’ expectations for this year’s fall pheasant hunting.

Pheasant hunters can expect to see significantly fewer pheasants in many prime hunting areas compared to recent years. For example, in eastern Montana, a major portion of prime pheasant habitat is likely to have had winter losses and reduced spring pheasant production.

This year’s very wet spring conditions also caused hens to make multiple nesting attempts. That means there will be many young birds with limited coloration until later in the season. Hunters need to be cautious in sorting out young roosters from hens.

On the positive side, unusually heavy precipitation through most of the summer generated exceptional grass cover across much of the state and good insect production, which is important for chick survival. Pheasants should be broadly distributed throughout this excellent cover, so finding the birds will be more challenging for hunters too.

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.

Here is a brief look at what pheasant hunters in Southwest Montana can expect this fall.

FWP Region 3

FWP Region 3 experienced a long, cool spring with heavy rain during the time of early hatching, but excellent brood conditions after early June. Pheasant hunters should anticipate slightly below average populations comparable to last year.
Access to good pheasant hunting areas can be challenging in this part of the state.

Elk

Montana’s elk hunters should experience some good hunting this year, especially in parts of western and central Montana, according to Quentin Kujala, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife section chief. FWP biologists annually survey the state’s elk populations post hunting season and again in spring after elk calves are born.
“Elk numbers continue to be up in many portions of the state, especially in parts of western and central Montana,” said Quentin Kujala, FWP fish and wildlife division wildlife section chief. “Recent winters have been long and cold, but not rough enough to affect elk populations in general.”
In other areas with grizzly bear and wolves and high predator to prey ratios, including the Northern Yellowstone, Gallatin Canyon, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Madison-Firehole areas, elk numbers have declined. Areas with lower predator to prey ratios continue to host stable or growing elk populations.
“Hunters are going to see liberal hunting opportunities in parts of western and central Montana with the exception of some isolated areas. If the weather works in hunters’ favor, and they do some advance work to gain access where it’s needed, we should see a good harvest,” Kujala said.
“Good year-round precipitation in the past two years has worked in elk hunters’ favor,” Kujala said. “The abundant grass and vegetation increases growth and promotes over winter survival of elk–while increasing the odds of getting some fall snow to move elk to lower elevations where hunters can more easily track them.”
Hunters may obtain a free Hunting Access guide from the FWP region where they plan to hunt and use FWP’s hunter tool kit on the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov, on the hunter access page.

Here is an overview of 2011 elk hunting opportunities in the state.

FWP Regions 3—Southwestern Montana near Bozeman
Elk numbers have declined in a few hunting districts, but generally elk numbers remain good with liberal hunting seasons in effect. Survival of elk calves in their first year appears to be at a higher rate than expected following a long, cold winter and wet spring.

Deer

Montana’s mule deer populations are generally at or below long-term averages across the state, especially in the eastern half of the state where the winter was particularly severe. White-tailed deer numbers are generally better, with good numbers in many locations except for areas in central Montana where deer experienced an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease late this summer.
FWP surveys show mule deer experienced major population decreases in northeastern Montana in FWP Region 6, especially in hunting districts 611, 630, 652, and 670. In those districts, antlerless mule deer “B” licenses were reduced by more than 90 percent below last year’s levels in some cases. In southeastern Montana around the Miles City area, mule deer populations are below the long-term average, though white-tailed deer populations are above the long-term average.
“If the weather cooperates this fall, deer hunters overall will likely experience average hunting conditions at best,” Kujala said. “The dips in deer numbers experienced in some areas due to weather-related winter losses and reduced fawn production will take some time to climb out of.”
For more on deer hunting, please check the 2011 deer, elk and antelope hunting regulations available on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.
Here is a regional look at Montana’s deer populations:

FWP Region 3—Southwestern Montana near Bozeman
Mule deer populations are holding steady, although the number of mule deer in the past five years has been trending downward. Most hunting districts are limited to buck harvest only. White-tailed deer populations continue to be good, especially along river bottoms and on private land. Overall, deer numbers are good, but remain below historic highs.