Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Early Indicators Suggest.....

Quit your jobs, cash out your 401K and tell the wife that you are getting back with the band.  It is going to be the best bird season in decades.

Well, maybe above average.  Yes, it is only late July, but I am starting to see a number of broods of various species so it definitely won't be a bad year. Sure, we can still receive damaging hail, prairie fires or forest fires (there is a blaze currently growing in Glacier Park), but overall things look good.

Pheasants--typically pheasant chicks in central Montana are the last to show themselves as the hens do a good job of keeping them hidden in tall cover. My sightings, unfortunately, are those young birds that were killed by vehicles.  When you see a lot of road-killed birds, it often indicates a good hatch. The only concern is with the birds that hatched after July 1st. We had a good, early hay crop and a lot of it was "put down", as ranchers say, earlier than normal.  Those birds that nested in CRP, grain or in thicker brush, should have done fine.

Hungarians--I have seen quite a few nice broods in my 20 mile radius from home.  This might be the best success story in central Montana this fall.

Sharptail----I haven't done much recon with dogs in the field yet, as I hate to bust up young flocks when they are this young.  August 1st is when I feel safe putting away the leashes.  But, I did see some young birds feeding in recently cut alfalfa recently. Only six or so, but better than nothing.

Blue Grouse---I have seen plenty of blues while on my mountain trail runs.  While my hopes are high for a good mountain grouse year, I am also witnessing dogs that are starting to show their age.  Granted it has been warm, but when the dogs fall in line behind me, I know they are tiring...fingers are crossed that they will be in game shape by September 1st.

Ruffs---same as blues.  Have seen plenty in the lower elevation foothills when hiking and when fishing.

Sage grouse---haven't seen any, but I haven't been in their prime habitat either. It still sounds like Montana will have a limited season, with only certain areas open to hunting, for the month of September.

I did some chukar scouting in Idaho while in the area for a race in June and was pleasantly surprised. I did see two coveys of full-grown birds, without chicks, so I have no idea what that indicates. I even heard some birds chuckling during the race and was probably the only runner smiling during the miserable ascent.

My friends in MN expect a similar grouse year to last. The drumming counts in northern MN were pretty much even from last year, so like last year, there were enough birds to make it interesting. The weather was decent during the hatch, as well. I just need to time the woodcock flights better this October.

While you probably shouldn't leave your wife or fake your own death this autumn, but as bird hunters, every fall is a good one.

Young-of-the year ruffs as of July 21st.