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This year’s Montana pheasant hunters will have the 2014 Farm Bill to thank for the amount of private land available. The state’s Department of Agriculture has used its Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program with funds allocated from the bill to open up new land for hunters.

Recently, there have been concerns for the availability of hunting land in north-eastern Montana and northern North Dakota. Many farmers in these areas have opted to plant cash crops instead of leaving their fields out of production through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Thus these lands were no longer open to hunters.

The loss of the CRP lands has led to a lack of natural habitat and cover for pheasants which is vital for nesting and raising their broods. This in turn, has caused a major slump in the pheasant population. In South Dakota, the population dropped 78% between 2012 and 2013; although according to this year’s brood count they do seem to be recovering.

When Montana’s program started in 2012 they used the initial $340,000 budget to gain access to 19,000 acres of private land. The number of participants and the land has nearly doubled since to include 32,000 acres from 100 landowners.

Non-residential hunters are also helping the state to increase available hunting lands by buying upland bird licenses. Of the standard fee: $2 of a resident’s and $23 of non-resident’s are allocated for habitat enhancement. The funds generated from this go to the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program and the accumulated $600,000 a year has allowed the program to enroll approximately 285,000 acres for hunting.

Under state law, the FWP is also bound to set aside at least 15% of the funds for pheasant rearing programs. This year, there were 6,600 birds released between August and September. However, research has demonstrated, there is a low survival rate for these birds, with 80% failing to see out their first week – natural predators are the main culprit.

Have you gone hunting in Montana? Are you hoping for more private lands to hunt upon?

Let us know in the comments below.

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