By Nick Gevock
My English Setter Sapphire went on point along a creek bottom in eastern Montana and I rushed in, expecting to flush a pheasant.
It was opening day of the pheasant season and I couldn’t wait to put up a rooster as Sapphire held a rock-solid point. But when I got up there, a covey instead of about 20 Hungarian partridge busted from the cover, and in my state of surprise I missed with two shots.
That, to me, epitomizes why Montana is truly among the best states in the country when it comes to upland bird hunting.
That creek bottom – which of course shall only be dubbed “No-Tellum Creek”, is well known for holding lots of pheasants. And of course pheasants are a lot of fun to hunt. But it’s also home to Huns, a fantastic bird both for the wingshooting they offer and their quality on the dinner table.
Both non-native bird species that have adapted very well to much of Montana. Both are highly sought after by upland bird hunters.
What also struck me on that fall day was how rich the diversity of upland bird hunting in Montana is. Just a few hundred yards away, in the sagebrush hills above the creek bottom, I’ve busted large groups of sage grouse in years past. And a few miles down the road, in the native dry grasses so characteristic of eastern Montana, abundant groups of sharptail grouse can be found.
These two, native prairie grouse species are iconic of the northern Plains. And together with their recent arrivals, they make up what is arguably the most diverse, and fun, upland hunting in the country.
Within a roughly 10 mile radius, a hunter could bag three pheasants, eight Huns, two sage grouse and four sharptails in a single day. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been one that has to reach the bag limit every day. In fact, I’ve still never reached a bag limit on Huns, even though I’ve had some great days afield pursuing them.
But it does speak to the abundance we enjoy in this state. And of course it doesn’t stop with those species. We also have mountain grouse – blue, ruffed and Franklins.
Now granted, two of those species are not native to North America. Pheasants come from China and Huns from eastern Europe. But both species are not causing havoc on the environment, like other non-natives including spotted knapweed, or Zebra mussels.
A day spent upland bird hunting in eastern Montana is just another reminder of how blessed we are as hunters to live in the Treasure State.