Since Open Fields began in 2012, nearly 150 private landowners across Montana have enrolled more than 44,000 acres.
Bird hunters may not be aware that they have multiple walk-in hunting areas available to them across the state through Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ “Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters” program. They can hunt game birds and waterfowl on enrolled tracts of CRP and associated quality habitats with no further permission required.
In recent years, more Conservation Reserve Program land has been converted to cropland, which decreases game bird habitat. Open Fields offers landowners an incentive to enroll CRP parcels in the program to expand habitat and create more public hunting access.
In FWP Regions 6 and 7, 10 counties have been identified as priority areas for Open Fields to enroll more landowners. The counties are Fallon, Wibaux, Prairie, Dawson, McCone, Richland, Roosevelt, Daniels, Sheridan and Valley. Indian reservations are excluded due to differing regulations.
Across the two regions, there are 100 properties allowing walk-in access, but FWP would like to see more. Those areas are listed in the 2016 Access Guide for Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Projects, which is available at any FWP office, or it is accessible online at fwp.mt.gov. Click on the Hunting tab and under Hunter Access, go to Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program.
Under Open Fields, landowners can enroll up to 160 CRP acres per application, in exchange for a one-time lease payment of $5 per acre for each year that remains in their CRP contract. The land must be legally accessible for walk-in game bird hunting, and it cannot be used for emergency grazing or haying. Since the goal is to expand public hunting access, owners cannot be enrolled in Block Management or adjacent to BMAs under the same ownership, and they cannot be part of an active contract in the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program.
Funding comes from a grant received by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program. Federal Farm Bill funding is delivered to FWP through the Farm Service Agency.
The walk-in hunting areas are marked with special signage by FWP staff to mark project boundaries. No motorized vehicles are allowed beyond the designated areas, and no big game hunting is allowed without the landowner’s permission. No fires or smoking are permitted, and hunters must pack out all litter and spent shells.
For more information about hunting through the Open Fields program or about enrolling land in it, visit the Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at fwp.mt.gov or contact Jackie Tooke, upland game bird biologist, at the Region 7 headquarters in Miles City at 234-0940 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.