Pheasants on the Rocky Mountain Front

A panoramic view of the Rocky Mountain Front from east of Fairfield MT

Over the years I’ve learned to love the Rocky Mountain Front. While much of the countryside is farmland, especially the parts of the countryside where I hunt pheasants, there is always an element of the wild in the pastoral landscape.

For example, there is the ever-present possibility of an encounter with grizzly bears, which have been expanding into their historic range on the plains. Thankfully, I haven’t had the pleasure, but it’s something you don’t put out of your mind.

Then there’s the wind. When storm fronts come over the mountains, it usually comes with strong winds. Hurricane-force winds. A blizzard can roar across the plains and instantly cover the landscape with a blanket of snow. Then there are the Chinook winds that can melt that snow in a few hours.

We were reminded of those winds a couple weeks ago when we made our annual pheasant trip to the Front, camping at Freezeout Lake, near Fairfield, for our last camping outing of the season.

It was breezy on the drive north but we had no problems. We set up camp and settled in for the night as wind-driven rain lashed our trailer. When we went to bed the skies were clearing and winds were calm.

At midnight, however, the roar of wind awakened us, and our trailer rocked and groaned with the wind gusts. It was hard to sleep through it, especially when Kiri, our Labrador retriever, wanted to get in bed with us, because she was scared. Sometime in the wee hours, the wind subsided and I got on with the real reason for the trip.

Kiri searching for pheasant scent in barley stubble.

For my first day of hunting I went to a farm near Choteau, one of my favorite destinations for over 30 years. Last year it was a bust, as the farmer who rents the cropland had cattle there, which trampled the entire wildlife habitat. This year, the cattle hadn’t come yet, and there was lots of cover, though not many pheasants., Kiri did put up pheasants, but the roosters that flushed all got up out of shooting range, except for the two that got up when I was crawling under a barbed wire fence.

On a second day of hunting, on the Fairfield Bench area, Kiri charged into a clump of willows and suddenly pheasants were flying everywhere. It has always been my observation that when a dozen pheasants get up they’ll all get away unscathed, and this was the case this time.

We kept on hunting and searching for scent and Kiri flushed rooster pheasants for me, one at a time. I had successful shots, folding two pheasants.

After a lunch break, we took another walk, but this time we saw just one hen.

At this point, I called it a day and we went back to camp where we packed up and hit the road for home.

Remember those winds of the Front? I was planning a third day of hunting, but the latest forecast was for another day of high winds, followed by a winter storm warning for the weekend. From past experience, I know that hunting pheasants in strong winds is kind of crazy. Birds get up and as soon as they catch the wind they’re gone, as if jet-propelled. With the winter storm forecast, going home seemed the best option.

Alas, there was a third farm I planned to hunt and had already lined up permission for that third day of hunting that didn’t happen I regret missing that day, but we have no regrets for going home and staying warm and dry.

Since then, more stormy weather has hit the Rocky Mountain Front as well as most of Montana. I’m sure elk hunters were happy about cold, snowy weather this past weekend. Early cold snaps can put elk on the move for easier living.

In any event, the pheasant season goes through New Year’s Day and I’m pretty sure there will be Chinook winds that will melt the snow and I’ll have another chance to invite some Rocky Mountain Front pheasants to come home with me for dinner.

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