This year's upland bird season should be the most productive in several years for Montana hunters, experts say.
Warm, relatively dry weather in June and July means better survival rates for upland broods, particularly sage grouse. And this year's conditions are the most favorable in several years, according to John Vore, game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"If we get a cold, rainy week or two in there it can really knock them back," Vore said. "Across the state, this year was better than we've had for quite a while."
"I had a phone call earlier today with our game manager in Great Falls, and he said they're seeing good-sized broods of blue grouse (dusky grouse) also," he said.
Sage grouse researchers in central Montana, around Lewistown, are reporting good survival rates for chicks there.
Vore said he expects the good news to extend to Hungarian partridge as well.
"Huns are very productive and they can bounce back real quickly" from bad years, he said.
But despite the good weather year, conditions can vary greatly on a local level. "The word we use a lot is 'spotty,'" he said. "Hunters can go look for Huns and not find a darn thing, but move a few miles down the road and have a pretty decent hunt."
Vore said that sharptail grouse populations have taken a real hit in recent years, and the species is a little slower to recover than others. "They're just so far down over the past few years it's going to take awhile for them to come back," he said.
Vore also hasn't heard much talk from around the state of better pheasant numbers this year.
Meanwhile, the state's wild turkey population is spreading. Even with a couple of not-so-kind winters, turkey populations are at least stable and probably increasing. Fall turkey hunts should be productive this year.
Vore offered one other cautionary note to upland bird hunters, particularly in central and eastern Montana: It's a banner year for sweet clover. "The stuff can get two or three feet high and it makes it real difficult to get around," he said. "It makes it tough on dogs too."
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