Favorable spring weather conditions generally lead to good upland bird numbers. Just the thought of wings exploding into flight across the prairie or through the pine forests is enough to get the average upland game bird hunter’s heart racing. And fortunately, from end to end, corner to corner Montana has upland bird opportunities for the casual to the die-hard hunter.
Upland season starts Sept. 1 with mountain, sage and sharptail grouse along with partridge. Pheasant hunting starts Oct. 7. All seasons end Jan. 1, except sage grouse, which ends Sept. 30.
It has been extremely dry in most of Montana this summer. Although conditions were pretty good earlier for nesting and hatching, the effect of the drought on insect and forb production, important foods for young birds, is unknown at this time, but could lead to poor survival of birds hatched this spring.
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 well below average this season, depending on the area of the state. The most robust populations can be found where there is a good interspersion of grain, alfalfa and rolling grassy hills or grass ways. Hunters can expect numbers of Hungarian Partridge to range from poor to excellent, depending on localized weather and habitat conditions.
Mountain grouse, a catch-all term that includes ruffed, spruce, and dusky (or blue) grouse, are fun to hunt and good to eat. The last few years have been good for these birds in FWP Region 1 (northwestern Montana). Success of broods can vary from year to year, particularly with spring weather. Biologists in northwest Montana have seen good numbers of birds and broods through the summer. So, if you’re favorite spot had dry weather when grouse were hatching this year, you might see good numbers. If not, it could be a tough season.
Sage grouse continue to do well in Montana going into summer, although the effects of drought remain to be seen. Also, large wildfires in sage grouse core habitat will affect bird distribution this year and in the future. 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.