This post is sponsored by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
We’ve spent a lot of time exploring our home state of Montana, but whenever I think I know everything there is to do here, I do something new. Witnessing the snow goose migration at Freezout Lake has been on my radar forever and I am thrilled that I finally got to experience it.
Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Montana is a fantastic destination for birders, nature lovers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The area offers a unique opportunity to witness and experience migratory bird populations that makes their way through Montana each year.
We went up to Freezout Lake in late March to catch the snow geese as they migrated between their winter habitat in Central California and their nesting grounds in the Arctic. As they migrate along the Pacific Flyway, they stop over in Freezout Lake, among many other places, to refuel, rest, and wait out the weather before returning to their northbound trajectory.
We planned our visit to coincide with the Wild Wings Festival in Choteau. This gave us access to talks, tours, and buffets.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the history of Freezout Lake, the various activities and sights to enjoy, and tips for making the most out of your visit.
You usually see the lake spelled “Freezeout” instead of “Freezout.” “Freezout” is the official spelling used by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, though the “Freezeout” spelling is much more common.
What is Freezout Lake WMA Managed For?
Freezout Lake is one of 58 Montana Wildlife Management Areas managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. They all have different use opportunities and facilities, so it’s a little hard to know what to expect when you visit one unless you plan ahead.
Freezout Lake is a natural basin located in central Montana, approximately 70 miles northwest of Great Falls. It covers an area of over 11,333 acres and is surrounded by rolling hills and grasslands. It attracts more than a million birds each year, from stately tundra swans to tiny Tennessee warblers.
According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, “The WMA is managed primarily for waterfowl production and public hunting and viewing opportunity. Providing habitat for upland game birds and other seasonal bird use are also continued management goals. Year-round access and wildlife viewing is possible, including upland game birds and raptors in the winter, waterfowl migrations in spring and fall, as well as waterfowl and shorebirds in the summer.”
What Can You Do at Freezout Lake WMA?
The most popular activity at Freezout Lake is bird watching. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded in the area, including snow geese, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, and various species of ducks and shorebirds.
The peak migratory season for light geese (snow geese and Ross’ geese) is from mid-March to mid-April, during which you can witness tens of thousands of birds at once. The most light geese ever recorded is 300,000.
The best viewing spots are located along the WMA’s Auto Tour Route, which is a six-mile drive through the heart of the area.
The snow geese might be the biggest draw, but there is great bird watching year-round at Freezout Lake. The best time to see specific species is listed on the MTFWP website.
Walking and Wildlife Viewing
Freezout Lake WMA also offers several walking trails that provide stunning views of the area’s wildlife and landscape. Most of the walking is along dirt roads, but there are some areas off limit to vehicles.
Hunting and Trapping
Freezout Lake is a popular spot for waterfowl and upland bird hunting. See the website for more information.
Primitive campsites are available. They offer vault toilets and not much else, so bring water and anything else you need.
See the Travel Plan Map for specifications on open/closed roads, specific parking/camping locations, and other information.
Tips for Visiting Freezout Lake WMA
- Timing is key. The best time to visit Freezout Lake is during the peak migratory season, from mid-March to mid-April. However, if you’re interested in hiking or fishing, other times of the year may be more suitable.
- Dress appropriately. Montana weather can be unpredictable, so make sure to dress in layers and bring appropriate gear for hiking or bird watching. It was pretty cold when we were there.
- Bring binoculars and a camera. Binoculars will help you get a closer look at the birds and wildlife, and a camera will allow you to capture the beauty of the area.
- Respect the wildlife. The area is designated as a wildlife habitat, so make sure to keep a safe distance from the animals and follow any posted signs or regulations.
Seeing Snow Geese at Freezout Lake WMA
Best Time of Year to See Snow Geese at Freezout Lake WMA
The best time to see snow geese at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area is during the spring migration, which usually occurs from late February to early April.
During this time, thousands of snow geese stop at the lake to rest and refuel before continuing their journey north. The peak of the migration varies from year to year depending on weather patterns but generally occurs in late March.
It’s important to note that the migration can be affected by weather conditions, so it’s a good idea to check local birding reports or contact the wildlife management area to get the latest information on snow goose sightings.
You can check the migration status report online, too.
Best Time of Day to See Snow Geese at Freezout Lake WMA
The best time of day to see snow geese at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area is during the early morning or late afternoon.
Snow geese are known for their spectacular mass flights at dawn and dusk, known as “blast-offs” and “fly-ins”, respectively. During these times, thousands of geese take to the sky in a stunning display of synchronized flight, creating a beautiful and unforgettable sight for birdwatchers and photographers alike.
Additionally, during the day, snow geese can be observed resting, feeding, and socializing on the lake and its surrounding wetlands. So, to have the best chances of observing snow geese in action, it’s recommended to visit Freezout Lake during the early morning or late afternoon hours.
Rules and Regulations to Know Before Visiting Freezout Lake WMA
- Motorized vehicles must remain on designated roads or in designated parking areas.
- Camping is permitted, free of charge, in the established camping area or designated parking areas.
- Open campfires are not permitted.
- Rules and regulations, as posted, must be obeyed.
- Hunting and trapping regulations (open seasons, bag limits, areas open to hunting/trapping, shooting hours, etc.) are strictly enforced. Refer to current hunting or trapping regulations for further information.
- Pets shall be restrained in a manner that does not cause or permit a nuisance or danger to persons, property, or wildlife. This excludes dogs to be used for established hunting seasons.
- Littering is prohibited.
- No parking on or along shoulder of Hwy 89. Please use established pullouts and parking areas.
Please visit FWP’s WMA website for further information on WMA use rules.
Where did Freezout Lake get its name?
There are multiple theories on how Freezout Lake got its name and spelling.
- One version suggests that soldiers stationed at Fort Shaw in 1867 were caught in a blizzard while passing through the flats, which led to the area being called “Freezout Flat.” This theory is supported by the fact that the basin was documented under this name in the 1870s.
- Another theory claims that homesteaders or ranchers who failed to make it on the flat called it a “Freezeout.”
- The last theory states that in 1885, a stage station called Camp Freezout or “Freezout Way Station” was established in the area. Travelers who stayed at the station during the bitterly cold nights would play a variation of poker called “Freezout” while keeping warm by the stove. Some notable early visitors to the Freezout Station included the cowboy artist Charles M. Russell and Brother Van, an early missionary to the Blackfeet Indians, who witnessed herds of bison watering at the alkaline lake.
Wild Wings Festival During the Snow Goose Migration
We went to see the snow goose migration during the Wild Wings Festival, which is a really fun time to be there.
The Wild Wings Festival is an annual event held in Choteau, Montana, which celebrates the birdlife in the region, with a particular emphasis on the thousands of snow geese that migrate through the area every spring. The festival is held in March each year and includes a variety of events and activities for birdwatchers of all ages and skill levels.
One of the highlights of the festival was a guided tour of Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area, which is home to a wide variety of waterfowl and other bird species. During the tour, participants can observe the incredible spectacle of thousands of snow geese taking flight from the lake at sunrise or sunset, as well as many other bird species such as trumpeter swans, tundra swans, and a variety of duck species.
The tour is led by knowledgeable local guides who can provide insights into the behavior and migration patterns of the birds, as well as the natural history of the area. And they have scouts go ahead so that when the tour arrives, they know just where to go.
In addition to the guided tour, the Wild Wings Festival also includes a variety of educational workshops, presentations, and other activities. We learned about bird identification, avian biology, and more. The festival is a great opportunity to learn about the rich natural history of Montana and the incredible birdlife that calls the state home.
More Resources for Learning About Freezout Lake and Birds
There is an office onsite (‘WMA Headquarters’ on the map), although WMA staff presence is intermittent. General information and FWP office staff can be reached by calling (406) 467-2646. There is also an informational kiosk at this location where brochures and other information can be obtained. Informational brochures are also available on FWP’S Freezout WMA site page or click below.
“The Wonder of Birds” by Jim Robbins is a fascinating and thought-provoking book that explores the world of birds and their impact on the natural world and our own lives. Robbins offers a wealth of information about birds, from their remarkable intelligence and social behaviors to their incredible migrations and their ability to inspire human creativity and imagination.
“Sibley Birds West” is a comprehensive and easy-to-use field guide to the birds of western North America. Written and illustrated by acclaimed naturalist David Allen Sibley, this guidebook features more than 800 species of birds found in the region, with detailed descriptions of their appearance, behavior, and habitats. The illustrations are stunningly accurate and include both male and female birds in a variety of plumages, making identification easier for birdwatchers of all levels.
Additionally, the guide includes range maps, songs and calls, and helpful tips for identifying difficult species. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder, “Sibley Birds West” is an essential reference for anyone interested in the rich diversity of birdlife in the western United States and Canada.
“Pacific Flyway: Waterbird Migration from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego” is a stunningly illustrated book that offers a comprehensive look at the migration patterns of waterbirds along the Pacific Flyway.
The book includes a detailed overview of the geography and ecology of the Pacific Flyway, as well as profiles of more than 100 species of birds that make the journey each year. The book’s photographs are truly breathtaking, showcasing the beauty and diversity of these incredible birds in their natural habitats.
With its engaging and informative text, as well as its gorgeous images, “Pacific Flyway” is a must-have for anyone interested in bird migration and the natural world.
Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area is a unique and stunning destination for anyone interested in wildlife and outdoor recreation. Whether you’re a bird watcher, hiker, or hunter, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. By following these tips and guidelines, you can make the most out of your visit to this beautiful part of Montana.
Snow Geese at Freezout Lake FAQs
Q. Are the snow geese at Freezeout Lake?
A. The Snow Geese usually reach Freezeout Lake in early March, where they rest up from a nearly 1,000-mile flight from California. Check the Migration Status Map for up-to-date information.
Q: Can you hunt Freezeout Lake Montana?
A: Hunting is allowed at Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for waterfowl and upland game birds. Trapping is also allowed. Hunting and trapping opportunities include ducks, geese, gray partridge (Hungarian partridge), mourning doves, muskrats, ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, and swans.
Q: Can you fish at Freezeout Lake?
A: Yes, fishing is allowed at Freezeout Lake. The lake is popular for fishing and is known for its population of various fish species, including walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, and more.
Q: Are there geese in Montana?
A: Yes, there are many geese in Montana. In fact, Montana is a popular destination for waterfowl hunting, including geese.
Q: Where is Freeze Out Lake?
A: Freezeout Lake is located in central Montana, approximately 10 miles west of Fairfield. It is a part of the Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area, which is a popular destination for birdwatching, hunting, and fishing.