For those of us that are lucky enough to feed bird dogs 12 months a year and hold our breath during every winter blizzard, hoping the wildlife will survive, we feel September 1st creeping up on us. Yes, we are still enjoying summer, throwing big hopper patterns from a vessel or from shore, but a bird man savors the upland season like a football junkie salivates the opening kickoffs of autumn.
By all accounts (mostly mine), it should be a good fall, markedly improved from 2011. The past winter was a non-event. In fact, for those of us that enjoy fishing through an eight-inch hole in the ice, there was a very reduced season to be had in most of Montana. Safe ice was in short supply. While the snowpack in the mountains was about average, it was mostly a dry winter across the eastern prairie. If there were major blizzards, I slept through them or just simply don't remember any.
The other major factor, the spring hatch, appeared to also be successful across central and eastern Montana. The spring was mild, without extended rainy and cool periods. There was ample nesting cover and plenty of insects during the juvenile birds' vulnerable stages. Lastly, damaging hailstorms were also rare across the Treasure State.
Not everything is in place to make it the stellar season afield that it could be, however. Thousands of acres of Conservation Reservation Program (CRP) grasses have fallen victim to expiring contracts and high crop prices. In other words, one of your favorite pheasant coverts or sharptail spots, may be black dirt this year. Also, due to this summer's drought, some counties in Montana have been granted emergency grazing or haying of CRP to help ranchers survive the record-setting, scorching summer of 2012. While not as widespread as the overall loss of CRP, it still removes some of the huntable acres from the menu this autumn.