Waterfowl and upland game bird hunting is permitted on the Refuge in designated hunting areas starting with the opening of state waterfowl season and closing November 30th. The Refuge complies with State hunting regulations, and enforces several Refuge specific hunting regulations, including:
Benton Lake NWR Hunting Update 2016
The refuge hunt area will be open for the special youth only waterfowl and pheasant hunt on September 24th and 25th; general season waterfowl, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray partridge (Huns) on October 1st; and pheasant on October 8th; however, hunters will notice some significant differences for the 2016 season. Due to extremely low water conditions, Unit 4B is the only unit with sufficient water to support a waterfowl hunt. Traditionally, Units 4C, 5 and 6 have been the only units open for hunting and Unit 4B has served as a sanctuary unit. Because of the short irrigation season and dry conditions over the summer, the refuge did not have sufficient water to flood any of the traditional units and instead, chose to flood and open 4B for waterfowl hunting only. The remaining units, 4C, 5, and 6, will be open for upland game bird hunting until the refuge closes to all hunting on November 30.
Unit 4B is only 393 acres and about one-third the size of what hunters have had open for waterfowl hunting the last two seasons, so it will be extremely important for participants to respect their fellow hunters and leave sufficient space between hunting sites. In the past, we have observed 15-20 waterfowl hunting parties on opening day and about half that number on the second weekend of the season. For safety reasons, we feel that the unit can safely support up to five hunting parties and are hopeful that hunters will seek other opportunities such as the Missouri River or Freezeout Lake WMA when this number is reached. Cover is very limited in Unit 4B and depending on hunter interest we may institute a drawing to limit the number of hunters in the unit.
The refuge is having an open house on Thursday, September 22, 4:00 – 7:00 P.M. at the Benton Lake Visitor Center to discuss the 2016 season and to consider alternative options to regulate hunter density.
Access to Unit 4B will be allowed via the Lower Marsh Road and a special parking area will be located adjacent to the Unit 4B water control structure. This new structure was the result of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana FWP, and Ducks Unlimited, and besides providing the opportunity to maintain a limited waterfowl hunt for the 2016 season, will enhance refuge water management capability in future years. The Unit 4B levee and the Lower Marsh Road will be closed to vehicle travel at the structure, but may be used for walking access and blind locations for 2016 only. There is limited cover in the unit so hunters are encouraged to bring portable blinds or other means of concealment to improve hunt quality.
Additionally, the auto tour loop around Unit 2 will remain open for wildlife observation during the hunting season. For safety reasons, a no-shooting zone has been established approximately 200 yards from the auto tour loop into Unit 4B and no weapons will be allowed in this zone. Hunting access is not allowed from the auto tour loop. Hunters may retrieve game within the safety zone but may not possess firearms while retrieving downed game. Hunters may not cross the auto tour and enter Unit 2 to retrieve downed game. The interunit canal adjacent to the Lower Marsh Road will remain closed to hunting or retrieval of downed game as in past years. Ideally, hunters will use shot discretion to minimize waterfowl crippling but we realize that even under the best conditions, crippling can occur; we would rather have you safely retrieve any downed game and reduce it to possession.
Hunting regulations and maps are available in the refuge office from 8:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays, and at the refuge entrance road kiosk. We encourage waterfowl hunters, in particular, to contact the refuge for any updates as we get closer to the season opener.
For more information, please contact Bob Johnson, Deputy Refuge Manager at 406-727-7400 x226.
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Sharp-tailed Grouse mating season occurs from late March to late May. More than 50 birds have been seen on the refuge participating in their mating dance.