Upland birds are getting harder to find. Montana was blessed with several upland bird options, but times are changing. Pheasants, Sage Grouse, Huns, Spruce Grouse, and other birds were Montana Hunters bread and butter in the last century. Now they are harder and fewer to find.
Pheasants are tourists to our state. They were introduced and fit in well to the grasslands of Montanan. River bottoms and willows along with wheat and crop fields caused a cockbird boom for decades. Times have changed.
Pheasants across North America seem to have seen better days. There was a time when pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania was simply amazing. As a young upland hunter, we cut our teeth on flocks of Ring necks and coveys of quail. Back in the 80’s and 90’s the bird hunting was superb. We also traveled to Iowa for great bird shooting. The entire northern US was abundant with this introduced species. The quail were native Bobwhites.
Today, you can only find Pheasants on mid-western and eastern Game Farms. Quail are struggling to survive. Woodcock are rare as well. From Iowa East, the upland bird hunting has become spotty at best. Montana is next.
Weather changes, farming practices, diseases, chemicals, loss of habitat, flooding, droughts, severe winters… It is never one thing. Cutting hay in May and June when birds nest kills birds. Tearing out hedgerows to allow for larger farm equipment destroys the cover between fields. Increased predators such as egg stealing raccoons and skunks, snakes, domestic cats, feral pigs, and warmer temperatures kill off the future populations before they even get started.
The same is true for grouse and Hungarian Partridge populations. There was a time when the fur market was an important part of upland bird management. Today there are more predatory fur critters, raptors, and poor cover. Everything must eat.
Montana’s Federal lands are currently destroying any nonnative plants and cover. The Olive trees planted as winter cover strips are being removed. Habitat is key to each species survival.
Chemical no till farming is toxic to all wildlife. No plowing is even needed. Simply spray herbicides then drill in the seed. Plant to every edge possible and cut everything whenever you want. CPR Land be damned.
What little public land that is left gets hammered. Guides and outfitters flood these public areas then lease or post the rest.
Once they are gone it is over. Pennsylvania and many other once prime bird areas have recreated habitat and transplanted wild birds. For decades they have tried to bring the Glory Days back without success.
For more Montana Grant, hunt him up at www.montanagrantfishing.com.