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Pheasant hunter will see their longest season this fall and hunting opportunities will be good in some areas and not so good in the northeastern portions of the state hit by a severe winter.

Montana"s pheasant hunting 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 made by the FWP Commission to provide additional pheasant hunting opportunities, especially for hunters returning home to Montana for the holidays.

“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.

“Pheasants can be a fragile species,” Northrup said. “Winters in particular can knock back bird populations. And, wet, cool spring conditions during the early brood period can cause high chick mortality. Where these two factors come together, we can experience notable decreases in fall bird numbers.”

Productivity in general in Montana was fair to good this year.

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.

Here is a brief summary of hunting conditions across the state.

FWP Region 7, Glendive and the Wibaux areas, pheasant numbers look good, though slightly down from last year due to drought and some harsh winter weather. Production was generally good. Biologists say hunting opportunities should be similar to those in 2002, when the region offered some of the best pheasant hunting in the state.

FWP Region 6, Glasgow and the surrounding area, experienced severe winter weather and significant losses of adult birds. Biologists estimate pheasant numbers may be down by as much as 25 percent. This spring’s broods were average and were helped by summer’s abundant cover and good feed, including insects. In the western portion of FWP Region 6, along the Milk River including the Malta, Harlem and Havre areas, hunting should be good this year and show improvement the further west you go. Winter was less severe here, with excellent cover and good brood sizes. Pheasant hunting opportunities will be variable, depending on the location.

FWP Region 5, Billings and surrounding areas, experienced a relatively mild winter for pheasants. FWP biologists report that pheasant populations are near the long-term average. Precipitation this spring and summer was somewhat better than in the past couple of years, though the timing may have negatively impacted brood survival in some portions of the region. Pheasant hunting opportunities should be near average, but below the levels seen in the late 1990s.

FWP Region 4, Great Falls and the surrounding area, experienced a relatively good year for pheasants. North of Great Falls biologists say pheasant hunting opportunities should generally be good. At Freezeout Wildlife Management Area, while there were no significantly harmful weather events, it appears the overall mix of precipitation and temperature this spring and summer didn’t produce the abundant populations enjoyed there last year.

FWP Region 3, Bozeman and the surrounding area, will offer pheasant hunters opportunities similar to last year.

FWP Region 2, Missoula and the surrounding area, has limited pheasant habitat. Populations here have been negatively impacted by the past dry year, though this year, spring conditions were mild and improved precipitation increased cover and feed. Pheasant hunting is expected to be similar to or slightly better than what bird hunters experienced in 2003.

FWP Region 1, Kalispell and the surrounding area, has experienced chronically low pheasant numbers in the past several years. At the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, pheasant numbers seem as good or better than recent years. Like last year at Ninepipe WMA, young roosters will be mature enough to easily be distinguished from the hens. In general throughout the region, pheasant hunting will be similar to last year.

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