How BaseMap PRO Saved a Public Land Montana Pheasant Hunt

Jan 29, 2021 | Pheasant Hunting | 0 comments

The morning is still pitch black when I pull into the driveway of Basemap’s Jack Mckinney. The only visible light is the stars and the green glow from the clock on my dash reading 4:30 am.

Jack sees my headlights pull up and heads for the truck. A duo of black labs charge ahead of him with a symphony of barking. Goose is lean and closing in on 11 with plenty of white around his muzzle. His eyes and will to hunt, are as intense as ever, though. Tilly, is more of a family dog, who likes to come along for the ride. The two lab’s barks set off my own black and white mutt, Pisgah. The bird dog B team, as I call them.

We load ice chests, gun cases, dog beds, hunting vests and waders into the truck, pack the dogs and head for the highway.

It’s over five hours to Lewistown and we want to maximize our time in the field, before having to head back home.

It’s a long way just to day hunt pheasants, but with both of us having families, sometimes one day is all we can muster. We could have spent the day much closer to home hunting decent public land, but chose to make the trek to some of the best pheasant hunting Montana has to offer.

We cross over Roger’s Pass (home to the coldest recorded temperature in the lower 48) and drop into the plains, east of the Rocky Mountain Front. We are just in time to see a curtain of orange lay over the rolling hills and flats of the grassland. The sight already makes the trip worthwhile.

My truck rolls to the outskirts of Lewistown near nine. We pull out BaseMap PRO and guide our way through a maze of dirt roads to a massive wildlife management area. We scouted the area on the app for a solid week, paying close attention to river bottoms and even eyeing a large section of private land marked with public access.

We wind our way through a serpentine road, passing trucks with other upland hunters and eager dogs. The road ends in a parking area near the river and next to miles of tall grasses, hedgerows and small state planted crop fields.

We open the back of the truck, let the B team out and gather our gear. We’ve opted to wade across the river and carry our waders through patches of willows.

The river is off-colored and a little high, but we find a slow section and make it across. The other side is dotted with sycamores, willows and grass close to the bank. The grasses transitioned to sagebrush the further it stretched from the river and steep hills then led to a plateau, where the publicly accessible private property sat.

The dog’s focus picks up at the sound of shotgun shells loading into our barrels. We spread out into the long grass and in front of us dog tails move back and forth like shark fins.
Almost immediately my adrenaline kicks in and I snap my head toward Jack as I hear him yell the oh so familiar “pheasant!”

The unmistakable, grey and brown of a hen explodes from the weeds and flies across the field with powerful wingbeats. It’s not the rooster we are looking for, but we take it as a good sign.

Despite the early success and our optimism, however, miles of terrain covered yielded no more birds. The bird dog B team took up chasing deer as if in protest to the lack of game birds.

Even the publicly accessible farmland turned fruitless as the wheat turned out to be already harvested and just a few inches of stubble remained.

As the highly anticipated spot turns up nothing, we start scrambling for a backup plan. We certainly can’t justify trips like these to our wives when all we turn up is one measly hen.

Walking back to the truck, Jack pulls up BaseMap PRO again and within minutes finds some obvious blue colored squares indicating state lands tucked inconspicuously among private farmlands.

BaseMap Tip: Use BaseMap PRO to find state and government lands that are surrounded by private agriculture fields as shown above and you may find birds that are crossing back and forth that are feeding on wheat and corn.
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We hop back in the truck and waste no time. Jack keeps his eyes on our GPS dot as we navigate more unmarked dirt roads parallelling wheat and alfalfa fields.

We pull up to the state land and it’s empty of any other hunters. It’s no wonder – there is a house on the land. Our trust is in the app, however, which clearly labels the large chunk of land as public.

Our trust in the app is rewarded immediately as we drive by and see 6 to 8 pheasants bunched under an olive tree. The birds are too close to the house, but we are excited by the possibilities.

We park the truck down on the side of the backroad, unload the B team and head toward some tall weeds and some state planted hedgerows.

Winds are now gusting near 50 miles per hour and the HuntWind™ features gives us a clear direction to what direction it’s blowing. We use the info to walk with the wind in our faces, letting it blow scent towards the dogs and hopefully making takeoff difficult for any roosters.

BaseMap Tip: When hunting upland game, navigate to HuntWind™ on BaseMap PRO and place a wind cone in the area that you are about to hunt. HuntWind™ will then give you the wind’s direction to which you can then use to your dog’s advantage. For example, if the wind is blowing to the East, you will want to work your dogs to the West so that the bird’s scent is blowing at your dog.
The action starts quick as a brown short-tailed hen takes off in an eruption of wingbeats from a clump of tall grass. All I can think of is the initial success we had before at the first spot, which makes me worry.

Hedgerows of olives and cherries, bordered by more long grass, lead our way across the land and toward some alfalfa stubble. Pisgah, my black and white mutt is finally shaking off the excitement of deer from before and gets to work in a slow zigzag pattern. She then veers hard left into the alfalfa and with a thunder of wingbeats several roosters rise from the stubble and over the hedgerow straight at Jack.

I give the birds a warning shot and properly alert Jack to their presence.

A shot from over the row rings out from over the hedge as Jack makes efficient work of the rooster with his 20 gauge.

My black and white mutt rushes the fallen bird and returns from the long grass with the rooster gently held in her mouth. It’s now easier to justify these trips to our wives, but we should probably get a few more.

A walk to the end of the hedgerows jump several more birds, but all out of range. BaseMap does reveal the property we are hunting to continue on past a fence that would normally halt me in my tracks, however. This opens up several hundred more acres to hunt.

We decide to take the truck around to a different side of the property we just discovered when just on the edge of a no shooting corridor, Pisgah and Goose take off into the weeds.

A lone rooster leaps from the grass while Jack and I double team it to the dogs. The dogs work the safety corridor, where a flock of pheasants so thick begin jumping they resemble biblical plagues. Birds are jumping in by the tens and I’m so in awe I become more of a bird watcher than a hunter. The sound of Jack’s 20 gauge snaps me awake and I watch a rooster fold its wings and fall.

Our shots break through the sound of the gusting wind and Goose’s grey face keeps close to the ground as he snatches up several roosters and brings them back to Jack’s hand. Two bird hunting buddies, possibly on one of their last big hunts.
We end the day with five roosters total. A proper amount to appease our spouses.

By the time we are back to the truck, the sun is shedding its last glows of orange over the open expanse and rolling fields of Central Montana.

With the dogs fed and watered and laying deservedly on their beds we started the truck and turned on the headlights for the second time that day.

Jack guided us back to the main highway and we pointed toward home. Ten hours of driving for a handful of birds in the most beautiful pheasant country Montana has to offer. Worth it.

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