Spring pheasant crow counts for the last two years in north-central and northeast Montana have been at or higher than the 10-year average for many areas, according to a recently released report by Pheasants Forever.
The counts are thanks to the areas experiencing a mild winter and biologists anticipate high overwinter survival.
Spring arrived early in the eastern half of the state, which seemed to prompt breeding activity ahead of schedule for some species, particularly sharp-tailed grouse and sage grouse.
“Pheasants seemed to be gathering into harems a little early as well,” said Ken Plourde, Region 6 upland game bird program habitat specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Well-timed April moisture initiated habitat greening.
“A few very isolated areas received damaging hail and thunderstorms in May and early June,” said Jacob Doggett, north-central region upland game bird habitat specialist, “which had the potential to destroy a few nests or young broods. However, except for cooler temperatures in the second week in June, our observations would suggest nest success and brood survival wouldn’t be anything less than normal over the course of the breeding season.”
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Both habitat specialists agree current conditions indicate good bird production could make for good hunting opportunities this fall, though Plourde noted with habitat changes over the last few years hunters should be prepared to explore different habitats and cover more ground if they expect to find success during pheasant season.
Montana’s Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program continues to help conserve and enhance valuable upland game bird habitats across the state. The program has several hundred thousand acres enrolled in various habitat projects, and all project areas are open to public game bird hunting.
Winters have been mild with average to below average mortality in southeast Wyoming, where a small pheasant population resides.
“Based on crow count data, numbers appear to be increasing,” said Wheatland-based wildlife biologist Martin Hicks with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Southeast Wyoming has experienced above-average spring precipitation that has helped increase the pheasant population. Hicks also attributes recent increases to the value of CRP. Still, he said, “existing stands need major renovation; until then the population will not increase to desired levels.”