While that may come as a surprise to hunters used to driving farther east, staying closer to home is good news in a season of high gas prices. And sweetening the deal for mixed-bag hunters is abundant grouse and waterfowl that will be available for another fortnight and month, respectively.
The swath of prime pheasant country stretches from the Rocky Mountain Front, around Choteau and Fairfield, east down the Marias and Teton rivers and across the Judith Basin to Fergus County and the mix of grain and brushy draws around Lewistown.
The balance in this area was hit hard by five years of drought. The parched conditions were broken this spring and summer by timely rains, which produced bumper crops of small grains and sprouted plenty of cover to hide young pheasant chicks.
"The Great Falls and surrounding areas experienced a good year for pheasants, especially north of Great Falls in the Conrad area and at Freezeout WMA," said FWP wildlife manager Graham Taylor in the Region 4 office (406-454-5840) in Great Falls. "Pheasant production appears to be good."
One Cut Bank hunter pointed towards the Chester, Shelby and Cut Bank areas for good numbers of upland game.
"There are so many birds over here," the hunter said. Daily limit on pheasant is three males.
Block program opens access
While private land, especially farmland with prime habitat, is getting harder to hunt with just a phone call or a door knock, the state's Block Management program has opened hundred of thousands of acres to hunters in Region 4.
Regionwide, some 1.3 million acres are enrolled in the program, and while not all of it includes pheasant habitat, more than half hosts at least decent numbers of birds. And some properties, like many in the Conrad and Fairfield areas, are premium ringneck spots.
Call the Great Falls office to request a copy of the Block Management access guide. The Region 4 properties are included with those in the western half of the state this year.
Snows improve hunt
Late-season pheasant hunters can experience all the success of opening day if they wait for a heavy snow.
Roosters gang up in any available cover and typically hold until they're flushed by a dog or a hunter. And tracks are easy to find and follow in the fresh snow.
Good spots for December pheasant hunting are brushy coulees adjacent to grain fields or CRP, said Taylor.
Or you can hunt shelterbelts, which define much of this landscape.
"When we get weather, our birds flock to those Russian olives and shelterbelts," said Quentin Kujala at Freezeout WMA (406-467-2646), located between Fairfield and Choteau.
"Hunting can be good until the weather breaks and birds disperse."
Even though Freezeout's waterfowl migrated south as the wetlands froze, it's still a good spot for sharptails. You're better off hunting the region's larger rivers for waterfowl.
Grouse hunting ends Dec. 15, pheasant season ends Jan. 1 and waterfowl seasons extend through Jan. 5 in the Central Flyway and Jan. 13 in the Pacific Flyway.
Material from Fishing & Hunting News
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