By Robert Lucke
Pheasant and grouse numbers are down throughout all of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 6, according to Havre Montana FWP biologist Al Rosgaard.
Take pheasants for instance.
"It looks like the trend through Area 6 is much the same. Generally the number of males we are counting was down 20 to 25 percent," Rosgaard said. "Usually that can be an indicator of what is going to be in the fall. But as long as we have good weather conditions for nesting, we should have a good hatch."
Where hunters will notice the difference, according to Rosgaard, is that the most suitable habitat is very limited because of dry conditions. "Along the Milk River should be good, but in the northeast corner of the state where they had a harder winter, numbers are down as well," he said. "In that area there is good cover due to more rainfall."
Two dry years are attributed to the decrease in some upland game birds.
"I guess along the Milk River, even in irrigated areas, the shortage of water has not helped. Even last year, there was a shortage," Rosgaard said. "It is a combination of cover not being there for the nesting and fewer birds being recruited into the population."
That all translates into fewer birds to hunt. But even with numbers down, Rosgaard thinks that this coming fall will be a better than average year for game bird hunting.
Grouse numbers were down about 10 percent.
"I have had some reports lately of landowners seeing broods of sharp-tailed grouse and pheasants, but I am skeptical with the hot, dry conditions," Rosgaard said. "That results in lesser amounts of food for them in insects, which the young eat. On top of that, if they don't have the cover in nesting times, predators can get to them. In good grass areas there will be good hunting."
What are bad conditions for grouse make for ideal conditions for Hungarian partridge.
"One bright spot is that when it is dry like this, Hungarian partridge really do well. They need some cover to escape into but in cool rainy weather they just don't do as well," Rosgaard said.
Rosgaard added a sure recipe for hunting huns this season.
"Take one abandoned homestead with a shelterbelt and some grass along with some nearby grain fields and depending on how you shoot, you should do fine," Rosgaard said.