Upland birds and tough winters do not mix well. Especially deadly are deep, crusted snow combined with lengthy periods of severe cold--the sort of conditions eastern Montana has been experiencing nearly non-stop since mid-November. The bad news is things can and often do get worse in late winter and early spring. Typically late winter and early spring produce some of the season's heaviest snow falls; toss in ice storms, sleet and hail and what you have is a deadly brew only the hardiest birds lucky enough to live in the very best habitat can survive.
Crusted snow restricts birds’ ability to forage. Prolonged cold increases daily nutritional requirements and over time consumes fat reserves necessary to weather such harsh conditions. Birds able to concentrate around hay stacks, tree rows and farm yards usually fare best. In some popular pheasant hunting spots, such as Plentywood and Froid, locals carry on extensive winter feeding programs—screenings gleaned from grain elevators and such. So long as the feed doesn’t run out and predator sinks don’t develop such feeding probably helps but lacking habitat can be like putting a band-aid on a bleeding artery.
Other wildlife, such as, antelope, mule and whitetail deer, suffer as well.
The National Weather Service in Glasgow, MT. reported thru January: Wibaux had accumulated 39.9 inches of snow, Glendive 26.2, Bloomfield 38.0 and Sidney 42 inches. Snow accumulation throughout eastern Montana is above normal and snow is predicted to continue with no-end in sight.
Biologists expect severe impacts to upland game bird populations in some locations. On the heels of the tough winter last year all this doesn’t bode well for upcoming season’s overall hunting prospects. Especially in light of last season, one many of us ranked among the worst in years.
As for the photo: No Mr. Bobwhite does not own a Montana Zip Code. Just thought a nice pix might help keep the dreaded shack nasties somewhat at bay anyways...over and out...