Saturday, June 03, 2023

Fall is here and it's time to hunt

| September 9, 2021 12:00 AM

Wow, could anyone ask for nicer Labor Day weekend than the one we just experienced? Day temperatures in the high 70s, crispy nights for sleeping, sunny, no rain and mostly smoke-free skies.

Just couldn’t ask for better conditions for fishing, camping, hiking or whatever you wished to do in the great Flathead Outdoors.

Added to this list of summer outdoor activities, was the beginning of our fall hunting seasons.

Yep, the end of summer has slipped by and early fall is creeping up on us. If you are a hunter like myself, most of us feel we are entering the best three months of the year.

Western Montana has three species of grouse which are lumped into one category of upland game birds called mountain grouse. Mountain grouse season opened Sept. 1 and runs to the first of January. The daily bag limit is three grouse.

At this time of the year, grouse are still in family groups. So, if you find one bird, there are likely other grouse nearby.

Most grouse research indicates grouse populations can significantly increase and decrease each year, primarily based on spring weather. A cold wet early June, when grouse chicks are newly hatched plays havoc with chick survival.

One study I read indicates that about 85% of grouse chicks that hatch in the spring do not survive to become one year old. Life is tough in the wild!

Young of the year grouse are an important component of fall grouse populations for the hunter. Western Montana hunters especially like to hunt for blue grouse which are much larger than Franklin grouse or ruffed grouse, the other two grouse species in Western Montana.

Blue grouse live in higher elevation habitats while ruffed and Franklin grouse tend to live in lower elevation habitats. Sometimes I like to stop at a creek to clean and wash my birds after a successful hunt.

If you do that, remember that one feathered wing must left attached for identification.

In the Eastern States grouse hunting is a time-honored tradition for gentlemen hunters.

Locally, most grouse hunters I know hunt grouse because it is a good excuse to get out in the field in early September with a gun in your hand.

Other early season hunting includes turkey hunting which opened Sept. 1 and black bear season which opens Sept. 15, for rifle hunting.

Last Saturday was another opening day for hunting. It was the opening day for archery deer and elk hunting. Probably the most successful local archery hunters were hunters who hunted whitetail deer in Hunter District 170, the greater Flathead Valley.

Archery hunters can buy an extra whitetail doe tag for HD-170. Since most of the valley is private land, it is helpful to know a landowner in order to have a place to hunt.

My experience is that getting out during the early part of deer and elk archery season is mostly an armed reconnaissance or scouting trip for later in the season when elk come into the rut.

The peak of the elk rut is usually the third and fourth week of September. It is just plain enjoyable to get out for a nice hike in the mountains during the early season.

You never know what game you will bump into and don’t forget your bear spray!

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the coming hunting seasons is the new Montana muzzleloader hunting season.

I like to think I track the most important new legislative wildlife management proposals, but I completely missed this new legislative proposal.

In past years there have been many legislative proposals for a primitive weapons season, but those proposals have been shot down.

I know some wildlife biologists that have said Montana’s five week general deer and elk season was plenty long, so to extend the rifle hunting season for a primitive weapons season would put undue continued stress on deer and elk herds.

I don’t agree with that view. Hunting pressure studies I’ve seen have usually indicated high levels of hunting pressure at the beginning and ending of hunting seasons.

The days or weeks between the beginning or ending of hunting seasons generally show a lot less hunting pressure.

So, length of hunting seasons may not always mean greatly expanded deer or elk kills.

Anyway, my sincere thanks to state Rep. Caleb Hinkle for introducing this legislation and the 2021 legislature for passing this legislation.

It was also good to have a very pro-hunting Governor who signed this bill. Montana, a very strong hunting state, was the last state in America to implement a primitive weapons season.

Our new primitive weapons season runs from Dec. 11-19 this year.

You will have to go on-line to review the new regulations for this primitive weapons season.

This legislation and the necessary Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission actions came too late in the year to have the new primitive weapon season regulations published in the general deer and elk hunting publication.

I suspect FWP offices may now have a separate publication involving this new hunting opportunity.

So, whatever your choice for outdoor recreation, get outside in this most wonderful season of the year.

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