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Montana outdoors: Pheasant numbers vary
Mark Henckel

Hunters looking for a great pheasant season are not going to find it everywhere in Montana this year.

Pheasant numbers in some parts of the state took a hard hit from winter, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In other parts of the state, they're still battling drought.

In places in between, you might find some pretty good pheasant populations.

A long winter and deep snows clobbered birds in northeastern Montana. Many pheasants died as winter snows buried their food sources and cover.

The only blessing has been that when the snow melted, there was a great green-up, which has provided good cover and plenty of insects for broods.

In southeastern and southcentral Montana, the winter was mild, meaning good overwinter survival of birds. But because the drought persists in its sixth straight year, green-up was not so good this spring and cover was not so lush this summer.

As a result, the best-guess forecast is that it will be only an average year for pheasants in these areas.

What hunters should be looking for are the pockets in between the tough winter areas and the drought.

The Great Falls and Havre regions are expecting some pretty good hunting this year. The Yellowstone River bottoms of Eastern Montana should also be pretty good.

The overall forecast is that many hunters may have to do some looking and perhaps some long traveling to find good pheasant hunting this year - with good hunting in some areas and not so good hunting in others.

Other states' outlook

Pheasants Forever has put together a fall pheasant forecast for other states that indicates it might be a very good year to head to South Dakota. Here's a quick rundown:

South Dakota: Last year, South Dakota had its best hunting season in 40 years, harvesting 1.8 million roosters. This year, surveys are down by 9 percent, but are still 52 percent above the 10-year average.

North Dakota: From 2000 to 2003, North Dakotans saw their rooster harvest more than double with almost 600,000 birds harvested last year. A more normal winter has knocked North Dakota's bird numbers down.

Nebraska: Pheasants Forever said that the biggest gainer in pheasant numbers this year appears to be Nebraska, where July road surveys indicated a 28 percent increase from 2003. The northeast portion of the state should provide the most roosters.

Iowa: Iowa was hit by late-May rains and a cold spring. Those May rains came at the peak of nesting season. As a result, roadside counts dropped by 34 percent from 2003. On the other hand, they still expect to harvest a million birds this year.

Minnesota: The 2003 pheasant season was Minnesota's best in over a decade with hunters harvesting over 500,000 roosters. Like Iowa, however, Minnesota experienced a very wet and cool spring, and roadside surveys showed a 47 percent drop over 2003.

Montana anglers in RCL

Ten Montana walleye anglers will compete in the $1.4 million Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Championship on the Mississippi River at Moline, Ill., Sept. 29-Oct. 2.

The pros will be competing for a potential top award of $400,000 cash, and the winning co-angler will earn as much as $150,000 cash.

Representing Montana in the Pro Division are Billings residents Dick Allran, Greg Darsow, Mitch Howe and Dan Majeske. Competing in the Co-angler Division are Montana residents Darrell Archey of Great Falls, Maurice Cameron Jr. of Great Falls, Duane Hons of Laurel, Debbie Howe of Billings, Lowell Jacobson of Glasgow and Boyd Strissel of Billings.

More than 200 anglers will compete in each division after qualifying for the championship through the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League and other sanctioned tournament organizations nationwide.

The full field representing 22 states and Canada will compete on days one and two for one of 12 semifinal spots in their respective division. Weights are cleared for the semifinal round, and anglers compete for one day to determine the top six pros who will compete in the final round.

Mark Henckel is the outdoor editor of The Billings Gazette. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be contacted at 657-1395 or at

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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