Montana pheasant hunters are in store for a welcome surprise when the season opens on Oct. 11.

 “Well-timed and plentiful spring rains in many parts of the state got pheasant broods off to a good start, and in eastern Montana the birds got through the winter in pretty good shape, giving the population there a little extra boost,” said Gary Hammond, FWP Wildlife Division management bureau chief.

Hammond said the dry summer wasn’t a factor for pheasants this year.

“The quantity and timing of spring precipitation is more of a factor in determining the quality of the fall hunting season,” Hammond said. “We look for enough early rain for good nesting cover, and not so much rain or cold that it limits the hatch.”

Hammond said other factors that contribute to a good pheasant season are the amount of residual cover left from the past growing season and the severity of winter conditions.

Hammond said overall pheasant numbers in Montana won't reach the banner years of the 1990s, but good hunting is expected in many areas. Here's a regional roundup:

 FWP Region 7, Miles City and the surrounding area: FWP expects pheasant-hunting opportunities to be similar to last year’s when the region offered some of the best pheasant hunting in the state. The region experienced good, well-timed spring snow and rain that resulted in good cover for broods and good chick survival. Winter pheasant survival has also been high over the past few mild winters, increasing productivity. Landowners report good-sized broods, especially in the Yellowstone River bottom from Glendive to Sidney. 

 FWP Region 6, Glasgow and the surrounding area: Hunters familiar with the area should see a notable increase in pheasant hunting opportunities. Good winter survival followed by good spring conditions led to favorable nesting and hatching of pheasant broods. FWP biologists are seeing broods in marginal pheasant habitat, a sign of expanding populations. Pheasant numbers around the Milk River appear to have improved from last year, as do populations at Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge and in the Medicine Lake area.

 FWP Region 5, Billings and the surrounding area:  Pheasant hunting opportunities should be similar to last year. FWP biologists report that pheasant populations are slightly improved over last year. Early nesting attempts were successful and there are some good-sized young adults. With the extremely dry conditions, however, pheasants are confined to the riparian areas—those wet areas near rivers and streams. Production along the Musselshell River was better than last year, but still below the average.

 FWP Region 4, Great Falls and the surrounding area: It’s not the good old days of pheasant hunting in north central Montana, but this year shows a notable improvement over last year, which was considered the poorest in a decade. While pheasants enjoyed a good spring, one of the few bright spots for birds here this year, the good moisture tapered off in early June and it has been dry with no appreciable precipitation since. There are more young birds than last year.  Birds hatched early are looking good and are large enough to benefit from a plentiful crop of grasshoppers. Hunting opportunities at Freezeout Wildlife Management Area, north of Fairfield, are expected to be only fair, but better than last year.

 FWP Region 3, Bozeman and the surrounding area: Broods were good sized and the survival of young birds has been good. Area landowners report seeing slightly more birds than last year and biologists expect the hunting opportunities to be the same or slightly better than last year. Access to pheasant habitat is somewhat limited in the region.

 FWP Region 2, Missoula and the surrounding area: With limited pheasant habitat further restricted by the extremely dry conditions this summer, pheasant hunting is expected to be similar to last year’s. Hunting access to private lands and a good hunting dog are important to success in this region.

 FWP Region 1, Kalispell and the surrounding area: In general, pheasant hunting opportunities will be similar to last year. The region continues to experience less than ideal conditions, resulting in low pheasant numbers.  At the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, however, only minor losses were reported due to an early season hailstorm, so hunters can again expected an average season. Unlike last year, Ninepipe's roosters will be mature enough to be easily distinguished from the hens.