Hunting Seasons Drawing to a Close

A photo from the archives; the late Flicka retrieving a handsome drake mallard.

The Christmas tree is part of a tall, tangled stack of drying Christmas trees, waiting to be shredded to mulch and, eventually, become rich compost, ready to enrich someone’s lawn or garden. The cycle of life is always in motion.

And, as we said farewell to 2017, we said hello to 2018, and wondered what this new year will bring.

New Year’s Day meant more than bowl games and excesses of junk food. It also marked the end of the upland bird season. Those pheasants, grouse, partridge, and other upland birds can now go about the business of winter survival without having to be alert for people and bird dogs upsetting their routine. The end of the hunting season doesn’t mean they’re safe, of course. For foxes, coyotes, raptors and other predators, there are no closed seasons.

Winter is the season that’s like the narrow part of an hourglass, with wildlife having to squeeze through like grains of sand. It’s the unrelenting fact of life that winter determines how much wildlife will be around in the spring to bear young, lay clutches of eggs, and start the new generation.

Winter is the season that is the true test of wildlife habitat; whether there is enough food, water and shelter in the local environment to enable wildlife to survive.

Some wildlife survives winter by migrating to warmer climes, though we’ll note that even in cold, northern states, there will be migrants from Canada and the arctic thinking that it’s nice and warm here.

As we experience a warming climate, even if we don’t think a sub –zero wintry day is particularly warm, some birds, especially waterfowl, find western Montana, with rivers that don’t always freeze, along with warm water springs and creeks, to be just fine for winter. Ducks and geese can survive a lot of cold, as long as they can find food and have open water for drinking and swimming. In recent years, waterfowl biologists have noted that waterfowl are finding wintering spots much farther north than in the not too distant past.

While most hunting seasons are now closed, there are still opportunities for waterfowl hunting.

Here in the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana, basically west of a line from Livingston to Havre, the waterfowl seasons will close, temporarily, on Sunday, January 7, and then reopen on Saturday, January 13, and then finally close on Wednesday, January 17. In the Central Flyway parts of Montana, the dates are slightly different, so check the regulations if you’re planning a waterfowl trip to eastern Montana.

There are also deer hunts going on in the south-central area of Montana, to help determine the extent of chronic wasting disease in that area. Permits went on sale last week (and quickly sold out) for a similar hunt in north-central Montana. That season, referred to as Sage Creek on the FWP website, opens on January 6. Both those special study hunts run through February 15.

In addition, there are shoulder seasons running for antlerless elk on private land areas. Again, there are a lot of rules to check out.

Obviously, this being Montana, there are other things to do, such as ice fishing on area lakes. Some diehards continue to fly-fish anywhere they can find an unfrozen river. Personally, once I’ve made my last duck outing, I’ll look forward to going skiing, and tying flies.

This is also the season for giving feedback to Fish, Wildlife & Parks and this month FWP will be holding public meetings in Region 3 to give the public a chance to ask questions and make comments about hunting seasons and to make recommendations on what you’d like to see in upcoming hunting seasons.

There are a number of meeting dates and locations, but locally, meetings will be held in Butte on January 9 at the United Congregational Church, starting at 6 p.m. In Dillon, the meeting will be on January 11, at the Search and Rescue Building, also starting at 6 p.m.

This is your chance to participate in the process.


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