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Hunting On The High Plains


By Andrew McKean

PheasantThe fried steaks are huge and tasty, but it’s the mix of dust-country seed caps and $1,000 bird dogs whining outside in kennels that make this a pitch-perfect beginning to Montana’s pheasant opener.

It’s the annual Sportsman’s Appreciation Dinner at the tin-roofed Froid Fire Hall, held the evening before every pheasant opener in recent memory in this tiny farming town just a couple of shotgun volleys from the North Dakota border in extreme northeastern Montana.

This year’s steak fry is Friday night, Oct. 9. You need to be there for the juicy steaks grilled by the Froid Volunteer Fire Department, for the chance to win a shotgun in a Ducks Unlimited raffle, and to rub elbows with landowners in this bird-rich northeastern corner of Montana who will let you hunt.

On opening morning, take your pick of dozens of wheat-and-pea farms enrolled in the state’s Block Management Program. If the politics in this corner of Montana are conservative, the hunting opportunities are liberal. To hunt most Block Management properties, simply find a green sign on a corner post, sign yourself in, thumb a shell into your shotgun and go hunting. You’ll find a good mix of ringneck pheasants, sharptailed grouse and Hungarian partridge.

From Froid, you can head north on State Highway 13 to Plentywood, the buckle of northeast Montana’s pheasant belt, or head south, cross the Missouri River near Culbertson, and enter the state’s best sharptail country.

If you head west on any of Richland County’s well traveled gravel roads, you will encounter Block Management land, but go even farther west, until the wheat fields and pastures rumple and break into sagebrush flats and stark adobe badlands. Here’s where you’ll find sage grouse. The locals call these largest and most elusive of the prairie bird species “bombers” because of their impressive wingspan and explosive flushes.

When you hit State Highway 13—the only paved road in this part of the state—turn south. Your vehicle is as thirsty as you are and you’ll find beverages for man and machine in Circle. Hit Kay’s Tastee Freez for a milk shake and a burger and, on weekday evenings, the Circle Wildcats unwinding after football practice.

Sage GrouseLodging is available in Circle, but if you brought a tent or a camper, head to the most scenic and lonely campground in Montana. It’s on the remote Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir where you can camp in solitude and hunt birds right out of your tent.

To get there, head west out of town on Highway 200, into the sunset all hammered-copper and magenta with dust from spring wheat harvest. Drive about 30 miles, past the little town of Brockway, to the intersection of Highway 24. Turn north toward Glasgow, drive about 20 miles and turn west at the Nelson Creek access to Fort Peck Reservoir. Watch for rattlesnakes, but expect to find sage grouse and a few sharptails around the site managed by the Corps of Engineers.

From Nelson Creek you can head north to the town of Fort Peck and then pick up U.S. Highway 2 at Nashua. Turn west to Glasgow and great pheasant hunting along Montana’s Hi-Line. Or go east, back to Culbertson and Froid to close the arc on a perfect circle of prairie bird hunting in Montana’s lonely, lovely and productive northeastern corner.