top of page

Montana Walks Back Upland Bird Restrictions

If you want to squander — as I did — a full four hours of your day, then tune in to the Feb. 16 meeting of Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission as members wrestle with a late proposal to create a two-tiered upland bird season. The meeting is archived on YouTube here.

We discussed the particulars of the proposal here. Responding to chronic complaints of overcrowding, especially in northeast Montana’s Region 6, Fish, Wildlife & Parks proposed delaying the non-resident upland opener for grouse and partridge by two weeks. According to the proposal, residents would be able to start hunting Sept. 1, as normal, but non-resident upland hunters couldn’t take the field until Sept. 15. The changes were set to take effect this fall.

But the proposals first had to win commission approval, and that absolutely did not happen on Feb. 16. Instead, the commission adopted a change to dog-training rules, delaying the non-resident dog training season on public land by two weeks. It now is set to begin Sept. 1, the very same day as the upland bird opener.

If all this has you scratching your head, you’re not alone. The commission meeting was confusing, circular, obtuse, and downright frustrating. In order to save you some angst, I’ll report the highlights here:

  • No change to season dates – The headline is that the department’s proposal to delay the non-resident upland season by two weeks died. Commissioners cited concerns from outfitters who have already booked clients for this September. And some worried about the economic impact on small, rural towns that depend on non-resident hunters in the fall. So this fall the Sept. 1 opener for sharptail grouse, sage grouse, forest grouse, Hungarian partridge, and chukar partridge will apply to resident and non-resident hunters alike.

  • Region 6 carve-out – An amendment that would have applied the Sept. 15 non-resident opener only on public land in Region 6 also died.

  • Non-resident dog-training season dates – The only real change that was implemented was a two-week delay in the dog-training season for non-resident trainers. Previously the season opened Aug. 15, but several commenters noted that in late-hatch years, young-of-the-year birds are still very small and vulnerable in mid-August. Unfortunately, now the non-resident dog-training season opens the very same day as the hunting opener. Several commissioners worried that could exacerbate crowding and create an enforcement headache for game wardens.

  • Both the department and the commission noted that the rule changes are likely to last a single year: 2024. They noted that there’s so much crowding on public land and publicly accessible private land like Block Management, especially in eastern Montana, that more sustainable changes need to be addressed by the 2025 state legislature. The 2023 legislature actually tried to implement several upland bird licensing changes, but the most ambitious died in committee.

While there will be few changes for this fall, the intensity of both hunting pressure, and concerns about overcrowding, are reaching a fever pitch.

“Daniels County finds itself in a precarious situation every fall with hunting and training on Montana’s public lands,” Alycia Nathe, a landowner in this northeast Montana county, wrote the commission. “We are overwhelmed, and tension runs high. Thank you for considering ways to help us attain some control over the use and abuse of our public lands.”

Jeff Lukas, with the Montana Wildlife Federation, advocated for restricting non-resident dog training to private land that’s not publicly accessible.

“We fail to see the benefit to the public trust or Montanans in general to allow out-of-state dog trainers to chase wild birds on publicly accessible land,” Lukas told commissioners. ‘We firmly support closing the non-resident dog training season on public land and publicly accessible private land.”

Lukas further noted that moving the non-resident dog-training season to Sept. 1 will create needless conflicts between hunters and dog trainers.

Stay tuned. The issue of segregating resident and non-resident hunters and dog-trainers is not going away, and will certainly be before the next legislature. Many observers think legislative proposals will look a lot like non-resident rules in the Dakotas, where out-of-state upland bird hunters have far fewer season options than resident hunters.




Join Wingmen Now

bottom of page