Susan, the dogs and I recently returned from a Montana bird hunt. Without going back to count, it’s been our sixth or seventh trip to Big Sky Country. It should be on every bird hunter’s bucket list. Hunting the prairies is a totally different experience than hunting ruffed grouse habitat.
The big difference is that you can see forever in the prairies. You can see your dogs working at a great distance and you can see flushed birds at a great distance. In fact, you can see as far as your eyes allow you to see. The birds we hunt in Montana are sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge (Huns). Pheasants are plentiful, however, they aren’t in season when we go. We make the trip for the September 1st opener for sharptail and Huns. Pheasant season isn’t until October. During October, we want to be in the ruffed grouse woods.
A further comment on hunting the September 1st opener. Sharptail grouse and Huns are like most game birds. The more they’re pressured, the harder is is for pointing dogs to pin their birds. Pressure makes the bird run ahead of the dogs rather than sitting still for the point. The pressure issue is so important with pointing dogs that we see the difference in just the first week of the hunting season. After the first week, and the sharptail coveys have been broken up, the sharptail will run ahead and then flush, as a single, out of range. After being pressured, Huns will still flush as a covey, however, seldom within shotgun range.
To counter the “pressure” situation, hunters should seek out more remote public land or develop relationships with farmers to hunt private land. The public lands consist of State of Montana owned land (which are identified in the Montana Gazetteer) and what is referred to as Block Management Program. Block Management is land that the state of Montana has entered into an agreement with private land owners to allow hunting. It’s truly a wonderful program… especially for out-of-state hunters. Every year the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (406-444-2612) prints a booklet showing where all the Block Management land is located. Block Management land is similar to a popular trout pool right next to a major road…it gets all the attention.
This year that’s exactly what happened to Block Management land close to a town. On opening day, we drove by Block Management land which had several cars parked along the road. The birds in those Block Management areas had a tremendous amount of pressure in just one day. Susan and I visited two of those popular Block areas on the fifth day of the hunting season. Our dogs found birds that ran way ahead and flushed way beyond gun range. However, all is not lost. A simple drive to Block areas farther from the maddening crowd will locate good hunting habitat with little or no pressure.
No need to stick with Block property. Almost every year we plan to hunt Montana, we order a new property ownership booklet from the county (contact the county Conservation District) in which we plan to hunt. These maps tell you exactly who owns property. If you see a piece of land which looks like good bird habitat, locate the property owner and then find them in the local telephone book. Give then a call…we seldom receive a “no”. If you receive a “yes”, you’ll most likely be the only hunter to walk that property. If the property owner hunts, it will most likely be for deer or pheasants. Plus, during September, most local property owners are harvesting crops and have no time for hunting.
The bottom line is that whenever you go prairie hunting, there will be good places to hunt for the out-of-stater. If you haven’t been to the prairies, start planning now. It’s a beautiful experience for both the dog and the hunter.
Copyright 2021 Paul Fuller