Montana waterfowl hunters are in store for yet another year of some of the best duck and goose hunting in the Northwest.
“For Montana waterfowl hunters this is the return of the good old days,” said Jim Hansen, Central Flyway coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Billings. “Waterfowl conservation efforts over the past 20 years in Canada and the U.S. ‘prairie pothole region’ are providing quality habitat, and ducks—also aided by a series of wet years—have responded.”
The annual spring population survey in the traditional survey areas conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found record high populations of total breeding ducks at 49.5 million, 43 percent above the 1955-2014 average. Mallards were 51 percent above the long-term average, and Canada goose populations continue their high-population trends.
Montana’s migratory bird—or waterfowl—hunting seasons are set to fit within USFWS frameworks. Under these guidelines 105 days are available for general waterfowl hunting in the Pacific Flyway—generally the western half of Montana—while the eastern portion of Montana within the Central Flyway has 97 days of hunting available for ducks and coots and 105 days for geese.
This year, Montana Fish & Wildlife commissioners approved a zoned split season for the Central Flyway similar to last year, with different zone boundaries for duck hunting and goose hunting.
“The zones offer more late-season days in several counties for Central Flyway goose hunters,” Hansen said.
Counties in Zone 2 include Big Horn, Treasure, Rosebud, Custer, and Prairie. The commission added Carbon and Yellowstone counties to Zone 2 for goose hunting only. Zone 1 is the remainder of the Central Flyway portion of the state.
“Federal frameworks allow changes in duck zone boundaries every five years, with the next opportunity for change in 2016, but goose zones are not so constrained,” Hansen said.
The duck and coot season dates for Zone 1 in the Central Flyway are: Oct. 3–Jan. 7, 2016 while in Zone 2 they are Oct. 3–11 and Oct. 24 – Jan. 19, 2016. The 12-day closed period in Zone 2 is a week earlier than last year so that hunting will be allowed during late October, which is often a significant migration period for several species of ducks. The tundra swan season in all of the Central Flyway will run from October 3 through January 7.
Goose hunting dates for Zone N are: Oct. 3–Jan. 10, 2016 and Jan. 16–20, 2016. In Zone S, the proposed dates are: Oct. 3–11 and Oct. 24–Jan. 27, 2016.
Pacific Flyway dates for ducks and geese are similar to last year, with a split near the end to provide an additional weekend of hunting. For both ducks and geese in the Pacific Flyway the dates are: Oct. 3–Jan. 10, 2016 and Jan. 16–20, 2016. Swan hunting will run Oct. 10–Dec. 1.
The basic daily bag limit for the Central Flyway is six and for the Pacific Flyway it is seven. For each flyway there are some species and sex restrictions within the basic bag limit.
A “bonus teal” bag in the Central Flyway will allow two additional blue-winged teal in the daily bag for the first nine days of the season, Oct. 3–11.
Goose bag limits are the same as last year for both flyways. Possession limits are three times the daily bag limit for both ducks and geese.
The two-day Youth Waterfowl Season will be Sept. 26-27.
Hansen cautions that seasonal water conditions are variable around the state, so scouting of favorite hunting spots will be important. As always, hunting success will depend a lot on local habitat conditions and weather.
To view Montana’s 2015-16 migratory bird regulations online visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click Hunting. Migratory bird regulations are expected to be available at FWP offices and most license providers by mid-September.
For online information on the federal duck and wetland report, visit flyways.us.