This Sunday, Oct. 21, marks the beginning of the general elk and deer hunting season across Montana. Reports are that the deer and elk numbers are up in the western part of the state, with mule deer populations rebounding in the rest of the state. Sunrise in Zone 1, which includes Flathead, Granite, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders counties, will be 8:01 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Antelope hunting this year was by far the best I have experienced in a long time. The numbers of antelope were up and the three of us that were hunting had our buck tags filled by 11 a.m. on opening day. We hunted on Block Management land southwest of Jordan and the rancher said that because of the mild winter some of the doe antelope had three fawns this year. Checking with wild game processor John Peterson at H&H Meats in Missoula, we found we weren’t alone in our success. Peterson said the number of antelope he is getting rivals last year, which was a record year for him.
Pheasant hunting, on the other hand, was different story. I hunted just north of Great Falls last Saturday and my hunting party only bagged one pheasant, though I was scolded by one of my fellow hunters for passing up a shot at a young rooster. I thought it looked like it had some color, but I didn’t want to take the chance of shooting a hen.
Many pheasant hunters report that there are more younger birds this year than normal. A late hatch this spring seems to be the cause for the younger birds. The drought seems to have affected the pheasant population in north central Montana. It was very dry where we hunted last weekend. In fact, two stock dams were completely dry for the first time that the rancher can remember.
They have had three dry years in a row, so this winter and next spring had better bring some badly needed moisture or the condition will only get worse. We also saw two coyotes on the ranch while we were pheasant hunting. I am sure they contributed to the lack of birds as well.
The only pheasant hunting I have heard that has been consistently good this year is in the northeast corner of the state between Glasgow and Plentywood.
Canyon Ferry: In a story published in the Billings Gazette on Sunday by its outdoor editor Mark Henckel, it looks like the controversial 20-day walleye limit for Canyon Ferry Reservoir will likely remain in effect. Every other lake in Montana has a five-per-day limit. Ron Spoon, the lake’s fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, reports their netting this fall indicates the walleye numbers are on the rise. Spoon said the only change proposed in the regulations for next year on walleyes is that anglers will only be able to take one fish over 28 inches per day. Holter Lake currently has that regulation in place.
Spoon also reports that he saw a huge yearling crop of perch in Canyon Ferry. That is good news for winter ice fishermen in years to come.