Pheasants & Pronghorn Around the Corner

My black Lab, Kiri, and I after one of last year’s pheasant outings.

Montana’s hunting seasons are getting into full swing now that we’re into October.

The 2019 waterfowl season opened on Saturday, September 28, and will run into January. If you’re planning a late, late season trip for waterfowl, be sure to check the regulations, as closing dates will vary depending on hunting zones.

The sage grouse season closed at sundown on September 30, so if you’re hiking the sagebrush in coming weeks, don’t shoot at sage hens. 

The next major season opener is just over a week away, when the firearms pronghorn antelope and pheasant seasons open on October 12. The standard opening day for pheasants and pronghorn is the Saturday before Columbus Day (or alternative, such as Indigenous People’s Day, or Thanksgiving Day in Canada). 

On a personal note, I haven’t hunted pronghorn in recent years because my wife doesn’t care to eat pronghorn venison and I’m not about to put meat in the freezer that won’t get eaten. On the same basis, I haven’t hunted sage grouse for many years. I made a deal with my wife. If I didn’t bring home any more sage hens, she wouldn’t throw any more out. 

The next openers will be the youth deer hunt season, which will be on October 17 and 18. Note: Those dates are on Thursday and Friday of that week, and coincide with the annual teacher’s convention break from school.

Of course, the big opener, what many people consider the real hunting season, the general deer and elk season, opens on Saturday, October 26, and that season runs through December 1.

I’ve been hunting grouse since the first day of September, but it’s the pheasant season that really gets my attention. 

I’ve been hunting pheasants since I was around 15 years old, and that adds up to a lot of seasons. I’ve been fortunate to live in, or relatively near to pheasant country my whole life, even when job transfers moved us around a bit. I’ve hunted pheasants in my home state of Minnesota, where my first hunts were on the family farm. Since then, I’ve found and hunted pheasants in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. 

The adaptability of pheasants enables these big, gaudy birds to live and thrive in varied habitat, whether Midwestern cornfields, prairie grain fields, grasslands, wetlands, river bottoms, and mountain foothills. 

Pheasant hunting has changed over the years, as rules change, land ownership changes, and rural culture changes. When I was a kid, living in southern Minnesota, it was unusual for a farmer to put a “no hunting “ sign on their gates. Similarly, years ago in both the Dakotas and Montana, if there wasn’t a “no trespassing” sign on the property, you could go hunting.

 I won’t call it progress, but the modern reality is that unless you are hunting on public land, you’re going to have to ask for permission to hunt pheasants. I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve been able to hunt on some farms and ranches for many years. Still, I generally call the landowners ahead of time to reserve dates, and after a hunt I make sure that they know how much I appreciate the opportunity to recreate on their lands. 

Other options include hunting on Block Management lands. Keep in mind that even then, you may have to call in advance, sometimes months in advance, to reserve dates.

Whatever hoops you have to jump through, when you do get the opportunity to hunt pheasants, it all becomes worthwhile when, hopefully with the help of a good bird dog, a pheasant flushes from a clump of brush, cackling and scolding as it claws for the sky. 

When I first started hunting, and really was quite clueless about it, I about jumped out of my boots the first time a rooster pheasant flushed at my feet. After many years, I’d like to think I take things a bit more in stride.

Still, when I don’t get a thrill when a pheasant flushes, I’ll know it’s time to quit hunting and give my guns away. 

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