Fall is here and hunting seasons are taking hold in Montana. That includes this weekend's (September 25-26) youth-only pheasant and waterfowl hunt.

This year’s youth hunt will have an interesting twist to it. Prior to the youth hunt opener, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has released 2,700 pheasants on seven wildlife management areas to give our young pheasant hunters some added opportunities. And effective next year, this should be an annual occurrence.

A new program at the Montana State Prison is being implemented as a result of some controversial and hotly contested legislation passed by the Montana House, that includes $1 million in funding for a new pheasant program at the prison. And why is there room and resources available to raise the birds?

For 30 years, Montana Correctional Enterprises had a contract with Darigold to operate a  dairy farm. That contract was not renewed and the process of selling off nearly 300 dairy cattle began. So, what to do with all those now-idle hands?

This is the first time in nearly 40 years that Montana will be raising and stocking pheasants. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials emphasize that the new stocking program is not an effort to expand the number of wild birds, but to bolster numbers on wildlife management areas for the youth and subsequent general pheasant seasons. The pheasants will be released on state wildlife management areas ahead of youth hunting seasons every year. The goal of the Montana State Prison pheasant farm is 50,000 birds annually.

This weekend, licensed hunters ages 15 and under may hunt ducks, geese, coots, mergansers and ring-necked pheasants statewide, but they must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult. While the accompanying adult may not shoot, he or she can assist with setting decoys, calling and retrieving.

Good luck to our young Montana hunters.

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