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Montana"s pheasant hunters will have more days to hunt this fall. This year the season will open Oct. 9 and close Jan. 1, 2005, rather than on Dec. 15, offering hunters an additional two weeks of hunting.

The longer season was adopted by the FWP Commission to provide additional pheasant hunting opportunities, especially for hunters returning home to Montana for the holidays.

Hunters will find hunting conditions to be similar to last year in most areas, but can expect tough hunting in some portions of northeastern Montana where a severe winter took a toll on pheasants.

“We estimate that spring pheasant numbers from Malta north and east to Plentywood may be down by as much as 25 percent from spring of 2003,” said Rick Northrup, FWP bird coordinator. “These areas experienced severe winter weather, resulting in losses of adult pheasants.”

On the other hand, spring pheasant crowing counts were above average further west along the Milk River toward Havre.

In the rest of the state, pheasant hunting will be average to good, with a few areas of excellent hunting, local biologists say. Hunters who arrange in advance for hunting access to private lands and who bring along a well-trained dog will be likely to have a good pheasant hunting experience.

Northrup also reminds hunters to be aware of uncolored rooster pheasants. Because of the cool, wet spring across northeastern Montana, both farming operations and pheasant production have been later than normal. Many rooster pheasants from late hatches may lack the gaudy red and greens that distinguish the male birds, which are legal to harvest, from the drab-colored hens, which are illegal to shoot. Pheasant hunters should not shoot unless you can positively identify both the species and the sex of the bird. Upland bird hunters must also take greater care this fall that they don’t mistake a hen pheasant for a sharp-tailed grouse.

The late growing season also means many producers are racing to harvest wheat. The late season may mean that hunters will encounter more unharvested grain fields than usual. Hunters should avoid hunting in unharvested fields.

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