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Pheasant rooster

By far the most popular upland bird in Montana is the ring-necked pheasant.

Montana's pheasant season starts Oct. 12 and runs until Jan 1. Here is the pheasant outlook from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

In south central Montana, pheasant counts this spring in the Clarks Fork Valley indicated that over-winter survival was not good. Pheasant harvest will likely be somewhat lower this fall than in past years.

Along the Yellowstone and Musselshell valleys, spring pheasant counts were similar to last year and hunting harvest will be decided by how well young-of-the-year survived spring storms.

In northeast Montana, pheasant populations in much of the region are still recovering from the drought of 2017 and marginal conditions in 2018. Spring surveys in the eastern and western thirds of the region showed populations below average and well below average, with pheasant populations in the center of the region slightly above average. Due to the good weather during peak hatch in June, populations are expected to improve across the region, but will still likely remain below long-term average in most areas.

Pheasant hunting in northeast Montana should improve somewhat over last year but will likely still be below the long-term average that many hunters are used to. The easternmost counties in the region and areas in the central part of the region along the Milk River are our traditional pheasant strongholds, and all signs point to those being better areas to find pheasants in northeast Montana this fall.

In southeast Montana last year, the pheasant harvest dipped to 47% of the 10-year average, which was a result of two years of poor production. Drought conditions in 2017 limited brood survival and resulted in poor nesting cover the following year. Effects of the drought coupled with early summer storms in 2018 and tough winter conditions both years resulted in poor bird numbers last fall. The good news is hunters may observe a modest increase in pheasant numbers this year. Last year’s winter conditions were more conducive for survival. In addition, moisture levels and timing this year have resulted in favorable nesting and brood rearing conditions.

Although early pheasant hatches likely experienced some cold and wet conditions, the peak hatch for pheasants typically occurs around mid-June, which corresponded with more favorable conditions that will likely result in better pheasant production in southeast Montana this year. However, summer storms produced hail that could impact pheasant numbers in localized areas.

This year’s moisture made for a long nesting season, and early-season hunters should expect to encounter broods with young roosters that aren’t colored up yet. On average, pheasant numbers in most places will be a little higher than last year but remain below average due to low production the past two years.

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