posted on August 13, 2005 00:00
Pheasant hunting prospects are top of mind with bird hunters looking forward to pheasant season in October. The new two-day resident-only period is October 6-7, with general pheasant season opening October 8 across the state. Good pheasant hunting depends on pheasant production. "More than half of the birds taken by hunters are juvenile birds. So, if pheasant production is down, so are the hunting prospects," said John McCarthy, FWP upland game bird manager Production links directly to how many birds survive winter and go on to reproduce. From that point, pheasant production is linked to the amount of cover and the insects available in mid-June when pheasant broods hatch. Pheasant hatchlings are very dependent on insects for protein in their first weeks of life. Prospects for pheasant hunters this fall vary across the state, depending on these factors. For example, in FWP Region 7 in southeastern Montana, most of the region came through winter with good breeding populations of pheasants. Rains this June and July produced good cover and good insect populations for the hatchlings, said John Ensign, FWP wildlife manager. "We may have lost some hatchlings too young to adjust to temperature extremes caused by the rains, but overall conditions were good," Ensign said. "Pheasant numbers will be about the same as last year and over the past couple of years that number has been trending up slightly." In FWP Region 6, in the northeastern part of the state, pheasants didn’t fare as well. East of Plentywood and Culbertson, the winter was severe and as much as 25 percent of the population may have been lost, said Harold Wentland, FWP Region 6 wildlife manager. "The rest of the region had a less severe winter, but our spring weather was on the dry side without the insects that hatchlings need," said Wentland. "Hunters will find pheasants in FWP Region 6 this year, but they will have to work at it." In FWP Region 5 in south central Montana, pheasant numbers will be as good as they were last year, said Charlie Eustace, FWP Region 5 wildlife manager. That means better than anywhere else in the state. Eustace bases his assessment on spring breeding surveys and hard evidence-that is, the frequent sightings of pheasants made by his "road grader network." Pheasant numbers are also down this year in FWP Region 4 in north central Montana, even though winter survival of pheasants was good. "When the chicks hatched mid-June, we were having some of our driest weather with few insects, so fewer pheasant chicks survived," said Graham Taylor, FWP Region 4 wildlife manager. In FWP Region 3 in the southwestern part of the state, pheasant habitat is also limited. FWP wildlife manager Joel Peterson said hunters are likely to find pheasant hunting this year won’t be as good as it was last year. "We aren’t seeing a lot of broods this year, so recruitment of new birds will be low." Peterson said hunters who remember the good seasons in ’93 through ’96 will see the difference this year in the south central area. Most pheasant habitat in FWP Region 2 in west central Montana is on private lands. "This area has never been known for pheasants, but the populations we have are doing reasonably well," said FWP wildlife manager John Firebaugh. A frosty spring left pheasant populations in the northwestern part of Montana in FWP Region 1 in the average to below-average range. "Winter wasn’t so much of an issue, but spring conditions during the hatch were not good. In fact, they were worse here than last year," said Jim Williams, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager. "The last year we had a good pheasant hatch was in 1998." "While those few glorious hours in the field are the goal, a lot of factors have to come together in just the right way to make a great pheasant hunt, McCarthy said. For pheasant hunters, it pays to know your pheasant habitat and to pay attention all year long to how weather conditions are affecting the birds.