Waterfowl season comes to an end
By Paul Vang
Those hunting seasons that began way back on the first days of September and seemed to go forever are about to end.
The last general hunting season still open is waterfowl and the time left for hunting ducks and geese is now measured in days.
To be specific, in the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana, you have just a couple days left, as the seasons for ducks and geese close at sunset on Friday, January 14.
In the Central Flyway there are a few more days. The last day for hunting ducks is January 18 and the last day for geese is January 26.
Refer to the Migratory Bird regulations at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, or the printed version available at many license vendors for the official boundaries, but in general, if you draw a line from Havre to Livingston, areas east of that line are in the Central Flyway and areas west of the line are in the Pacific Flyway.
I hate to say it, but this year, I missed out on the waterfowl season. With the unusually mild weather that extended almost to Christmas, ducks weren’t coming into the warm water spring creeks on the ranch where I usually hunt ducks. Now, with the heavy snows we’ve received, I’m going to take a pass on slogging through deep snow on the off chance I might have a successful sneak on a bunch of mallards. I’ll claim an old age exemption.
In any event, the waterfowl season is just about over and when that’s over, hunting is over until April when the spring turkey season begins.
On the topic of bird hunting, Fish, Wildlife & Parks is proposing a change in upland bird regulations. Currently, upland bird hunting ends on January 1. FWP is proposing a change to extend the upland season for mountain grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, partridge, and pheasants through the end of January.
While I enjoy upland bird hunting more than ducks, or elk and deer, I really am not in favor of extending the season for upland birds another month.
My main reason is that January is typically a cold and snowy month. For upland birds, as well as most wildlife, the year is like an hourglass. Summer and autumn are times of plenty, with abundant bugs, food, and vegetative cover giving hatchling birds a fighting chance to survive and mature.
Winter is that narrow part of the hourglass where birds must scramble to find food and then it’s another struggle to find sufficient habitat to survive arctic winds and sub-zero temperatures.
Once birds survive winter, things get easier in spring as snow melts and food becomes more available. Birds that survive winter are the birds that reproduce and replace the birds that didn’t survive the hard months.
In short, when January comes, I think upland birds need a break from human predators so they can concentrate on surviving through the winter without human disruption.
I’d suggest a non-biological factor is that avid upland bird hunters and their hard-working bird dogs are more than likely worn out by the end of December, anyway.
FWP is currently accepting comments on this proposed change, and you can submit comments online at the FWP website page for possible changes in hunting regulations. Or you can submit comments by email. The email address is FWPWLD@mt.gov. The deadline for submitting comments is January 21, at 5 p.m.
Incidentally, the cold, snowy weather of last week, normal weather for January, illustrates challenges that wild birds deal with in their daily struggle for survival.
On the other hand, cold, snowy weather becomes a time of leisure for ruffed grouse. Ruffed grouse like nothing better than a couple feet of fresh, fluffy snow. Grouse can burrow into the snow and be cozy and warm, insulated from the cold by the snow, and out of sight of predators. During the warm parts of the day, grouse will emerge from the snow and fly up into trees, especially aspens, and feed on leaf buds.
I grumble about shoveling, but let it snow.
--Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.