Deferred Compensation

When the snowy season comes, most sporting folk clean and lock up the firearms and spend most of their winter recreation time waiting in lift lines and watching the sky for fresh powder. Although this is certainly a quality outdoor experience, there are other, possibly more appealing options for those who just can’t get enough huntin’.

With the plunging of the mercury many of the ponds and lakes freeze over, leaving the ducks and geese with limited options for open water. Think of some of the backwaters and little swirly sections of favorite fishing spots. They are ideal cold-weather habitat for resident and late-migrant waterfowl.

What's more, Montana spans two flyways: the Pacific and the Central. Duck and goose season in the Pacific Flyway runs until January 11. In the Central Flyway, goose season lasts until January 11 also. The duck season in the Central Flyway ends January 3, and after November 6 no Pintails or Canvasbacks are to be harvested.

One of the best things about late-season waterfowl hunting is the solitude—often you will have your favorite section or bend in the river to yourself. This winter may very well be a good one to extend your waterfowl-hunting season and discover some true outdoor tranquility.

Game Birds
If being wet and cold doesn’t seem all that tranquil, there are still ample wing-shooting opportunities well into winter for Montana’s various species of upland game birds. Mountain grouse (including blue, ruffed, and Franklin’s) season is open until December 15. Not only do these birds tend to hold and flush better in colder weather, but accessing your hunting area via backcountry skis or snowshoes can also be a great way to burn off some of those pesky Thanksgiving calories.

If you have access to good prairie and grassland habitat, midwinter pheasant, sharptailed grouse, and partridge hunting can be some of the best and most productive of the season. These birds can be taken east of the Continental Divide through January 1.

One thing to note about pheasant and partridge is that on private shooting preserves the season is nearly endless. A Montana wing shooter can extend the season well into March. Gallatin Valley resident bird hunters are quite lucky indeed to have two such preserves within an hour’s drive. Grey Cliffs Ranch sits northwest of Black’s Ford fishing access on the Madison River and is home to some 5,000 acres of native grass pastures and irrigated hay fields. In its entirety, Grey Cliffs Ranch is just about as good as upland bird habitat gets: it offers pheasant and Chukar partridge hunting during their extended season, and regular limits apply during the regular upland season. Prices for a day are fairly reasonable and a day of hunting wouldn’t be a bad gift idea. Grey Cliffs has also added a sporting clays course and has a private pond for duck hunting. For more information visit or call 285-6512.

One other private shooting preserve worth looking into, and well worth the short drive, is Whispering Winds Ranch and Hunt Club. It offers pheasant and partridge as well and its season also runs through March 31. For more information call 285-6715.

Big Game
Sometimes the raw, biting chill of winter leaves a person craving something more substantial on the dinner table than a few birds. As luck would have it, Montana offers some very good late-season big-game opportunities. A lucky few hunters will set their sights on bison until mid-February. There's also the Gardiner late cow elk hunt, and a few regions in the state offer game damage hunts and extended seasons in weapons-restricted areas.

For more information on these and other late-season hunting opportunities, and for current regulations, contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at 994-4042 or check out

Kurt Dehmer, a 6th-generation Gallatin Valley native, owns Durty Kurty's guide service and guides for Lone Mountain Ranch and Bozeman Angler.