It is certainly a big weekend for rifle and shotgun hunters in Montana. This Saturday the pronghorn antelope and pheasant hunting seasons get underway. Most of the good antelope hunting is east of the continental divide and in south west Montana. I am not a wildlife biologist but every time I made a fishing trip east to Fort Peck Reservoir it seems like I did notice more antelope than in recent years. Connie Loomis a longtime resident of Brusett Montana, which is in the heart of antelope country, told me that some of the antelope around her ranch gave birth to two fawns this year. The most recent numbers by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks are from 2015. Antelope numbers statewide were estimated to be around 138,000 then. This is truly a rough estimate by FWP but I have a feeling that this year’s numbers are up from last year since most of the state had mild weather this past winter and spring. As you might imagine Region 7 has by far the largest number of antelope in the state with 40,395. Did you know that antelope can run at speeds close to 60 miles per hour? Although antelope are not as fast as cheetahs, they maintain a fast speed for a longer period of time than cheetahs. antelope have a life expectancy of about 10 years and are about 4 ½ feet long, 3 feet tall and weigh between 90-150 pounds depending on the sex. Females weigh less.
The pheasant outlook should be better than last year as conditions around the state have been good. The Pheasants Forever habitat and nesting conditions report for 2016 released in July had this to say about Montana’s pheasant outlook this fall, “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. Both regions experienced 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,” explained north-central region upland game bird habitat specialist Jacob Doggett, “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.”
Both habitat specialists agree current conditions indicate good bird production and 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.
Let me leave you with some interesting pheasant facts. While pheasants are able to fly fast for short distances, they prefer to run. If startled however, they will burst to the sky in a “flush.” Their flight speed is 38 to 48 mph when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 60 mph. Rarely, if ever, does a pheasant die of old age. In fact, the average life span is less than 1 year. The pheasant is a prey species and must face major sources of mortality beginning the day it is laid in the nest as an egg.
(Written by the Captain – aka Mark Ward)