The dog days of summer may be upon us now, but we are less then one month away from the start of Upland season here in Montana. Soon we will be back in the fields chasing grouse and huns to the delight of both us and our dogs. Each start of the season brings excitement and I’m always curious to see how this year will stack up to previous years. Especially coming off a year like 2021 where there was so much drought across the core upland regions of the country. Pheasant and other upland bird numbers vary so much on the habitat available to them and populations can vary each season. So how will this one stack up to the previous seasons?
The Start of 2022 was a very dry one. We received little to no precipitation to make a dent in this intense drought across the northern plains creating concerns for nesting conditions this spring. The little moisture brought fairly mild winter temperatures; huge for pheasants as drought the last year and half has really stunted good quality winter habitat for pheasants. If a cold snowy winter had taken place, we would have lost a good percentage of the population. But as the calendar turned to spring the floodgates opened and we received above average precipitation from April to early June. This has helped the native vegetation green up quicker than normal and in-turn grow, creating suitable habitat for pheasants to nest.
The cooler than average temperatures and wetter spring also delayed a lot of the farming practices. Pheasant chicks on average hatch in mid June and continue through July. The later hay and alfalfa gets cut the better, as a lot of pheasants use these hay and alfalfa fields to nest in. A rule of thumb is, if farmers can wait until after the 4th of July the better success we can see from pheasants. After the 4th we saw the rain slowly taper off and temperatures climb to above normal. Because of this high pressure that has set up over the northern interior the grass curing process has been complete and we are seeing higher numbers of grasshoppers, although this may seem scary as the grasshoppers are known to eat every piece of vegetation available. This creates an abundance of food for young pheasant chicks to feed on as for the first few weeks of life they exclusively eat insects.
Based on the conditions that were present during the nesting season and then drying out as July proceeded, we should have a good number of pheasants, huns and sharptails. On a recent survey I found 4 different broods of chicks with hens. All were fairly large and able to fly which means the hardest part for the chicks are past them. I also saw several adult roosters feeding in freshly cut hay and barley. Other states like North and South Dakota are seeing good numbers of broods and are predicting a good season as well. It’s time to dust off the boots and get excited for the upcoming season!