Out of Bounds

March 1 is Magic

On March 1 in Montana it’s time to buy a new hunting and fishing license

By Rob Breeding

Montana has a lot to offer hunting and fishing types.

Upland bird hunting in Montana is great, though I’ve done all of mine in the less great western part of the state. Upland hunting out west can be good, but when it is it’s usually also crowded.

Big game has to be up there, right? I rate Montana No. 1 based on a lot of subjective criteria. Montana has the coolest length of the Rockies, for instance, in the U.S. and the state’s isolated sky island mountain ranges (sorry for stealing, Arizona) are second to none. Place is an important factor in what makes hunting great.

Still, Colorado churns out more elk every year and that takes enough of a shine off Montana’s status that a No. 1 claim is debatable. 

Idaho and Wyoming are also strong contenders, and even Arizona deserves a mention as it’s No. 1 in terms of producing record elk.

The case that Montana isn’t No. 1 for trout fishing is far weaker. Alaska is the only real rival, but then I consider Alaska a salmon state. There is amazing native rainbow trout fishing, however, and who’s gonna complain about chunky rainbows slurping deer-hair mice where the sun shines nearly all day long?

Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho can all make a trout fishing case, but none are up to Montana standards.

But there’s one category where, to the best of my knowledge, no state rivals Montana. That category is the start of the annual licensing season. On March 1 in Montana it’s time to buy a new hunting and fishing license, and that license will, for all practical purposes, get you through until the new season starts with the March skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River.

Most states arrange things by calendar year, which can be burdensome when you’re hunting out of state after New Year’s and another license is required.

Most Montana seasons have ended by New Year’s, but the wolf season extends until March 15. That’s the one Montana season requiring two licenses if you intend to hunt it to the end.

There are also shoulder seasons for elk and some waterfowl opportunities in January. But for the most part, hunting wraps up after the first of the year. January is too cold for all but the most crazed among us anyway. 

Speaking of ice anglers.

I’m not an anti when it comes to ice fishing. I’ve pulled a few fish through the ice and anytime you’re catching fish it’s a good time by my estimation. I’m mostly content to leave it to folks more serious about it than I, however.

Upland bird hunting is the one thing that’s missing. Everything closes in Montana at year’s end, except for an extended partridge season in Carbon County. There are birds there at least, but you ought to check the weather report closely before heading down to those badlands south of Bridger in January. The weather that time of year can be pretty harsh, just as harsh on the below-zero end of the spectrum as it can be in September when it seems more like rattlesnake season than chukar.

At least if the weather turns nasty Red Lodge is just a short drive away, and bad weather on the chukar grounds usually makes for great conditions on the slopes.

January hunting is much better way down south. New Mexico quail season extends into February and in Texas you can hunt quail until Feb. 25.

They do that in part because there’s almost no Texas public land. A lot of private ground is leased out to hunters and those leases sometimes ban quail hunting until after deer season.

It’s also a warm country with bobwhite the predominant upland bird species, a species which will nest late into the season. So two months of Texas quail hunting after New Year’s makes perfect sense.