2018 upland game bird hunting forecast
September 13, 2018
Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Upland season started Sept. 1 with mountain, sage and sharptail grouse along with partridge. Pheasant hunting starts Oct. 6. All seasons end Jan. 1, except sage grouse, which ends Sept. 30.
Gray (Hungarian) Partridge
While no formal surveys are conducted for huns in Montana, weather and habitat conditions suggest huns across the state will range from slightly above to below average this season, depending on the area of the state.
Region 4 has seen good bird numbers in many areas but due to heavy rains and flooding the region lost some production. Overall bird number in western parts of R4 are similar to last year.
In Region 6, partridge populations are always “spotty.” Based on incidental observations, partridge populations saw similar decreases to pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse last year. However, the good nesting and brood-rearing conditions should help them recover similarly to the other species. In good habitats the outlook for huns is fair this year, but hunters may need to cover a lot of ground to find habitats favored by the species.
Montana is experiencing a large decline in conservation reserve program acreage along the northern tier of the state, which may have an impact on hunting experiences in Regions 4 and 6. CRP is a program that pays landowners to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species improves environmental health and quality of bird habitat.
In Region 6, pheasant adult numbers, according to spring crowing counts, show quite a bit of variability across the region. The west end of the region, including Hill, Blaine and a portion of Chouteau counties, indicate numbers at 40 to 50 percent below long-term average — LTA — in those areas. Phillips County is above LTA, while Valley and McCone counties are 10 to 24 percent below.
The picture for sage grouse is variable across the state, even within regions. Some leks, or breeding grounds, had good numbers this spring while others did not. Snow that lasted into March and muddy conditions in many areas may not have necessarily affected sage grouse, but it prevented biologists from getting to many leks to count birds. Consequently, FWP doesn’t have as good a handle on sage grouse numbers as usual. Also, large wildfires in sage grouse core habitat in 2017 will affect bird distribution this year and in the future. Sage grouse numbers naturally fluctuate. After declining lek counts between 2008 and 2014 numbers picked up in 2016, which is consistent with normal population fluctuations and is a result of favorable weather conditions for hatching and brood rearing in 2014 through 2016.
In Region 6, sage grouse lek counts indicate 10 percent to 24 percent below LTA in the western portion of the region, including Hill, Blaine, Phillips, and a portion of Chouteau counties. Both Valley and McCone counties indicate numbers that are above LTA. There are no formal surveys of sage grouse in the northeast corner of the region, as numbers are historically very low because of inadequate habitat. Core sage grouse habitat primarily exists south of U.S. Highway 2 in mixed grass and Wyoming big sagebrush rangeland. Birds will be distributed sparsely across the expanses of sage brush but may concentrate in certain areas.
In Region 6, sharp-tailed grouse adult numbers are 25 to 40 percent below the LTA across the region where surveys are conducted. Sharp-tailed grouse distribution may vary dramatically across the region, and the greatest numbers will be found in optimal habitat.
In the central part of the state in Region 4, things look about average.