Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

Whooping Crane Migration

Whooping cranes are in the midst of their fall migration and sightings will increase as they make their way through North Dakota over the next several weeks. Anyone seeing these endangered birds as they move through the state is asked to report sightings so the birds can be tracked.

 

The whooping cranes that do make their way through North Dakota each fall are part of a population of about 500 birds that are on their way from their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, a distance of about 2,500 miles.

 

Whoopers stand about 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of about 7 feet from tip to tip. They are bright white with black wing tips, which are visible only when the wings are outspread. In flight they extend their long necks forward, while their long, slender legs extend out behind the tail. Whooping cranes typically migrate singly, or in groups of 2-3 birds, and may be associated with sandhill cranes.

 

Other white birds such as snow geese, swans and egrets are often mistaken for whooping cranes. The most common misidentification is pelicans, because their wingspan is similar and they tuck their pouch in flight, leaving a silhouette similar to a crane when viewed from below.

 

Anyone sighting whoopers should not disturb them, but record the date, time, location and the birds’ activity. Observers should also look closely for and report colored bands, which may occur on one or both legs. Whooping cranes have been marked with colored leg bands to help determine their identity.

 

Whooping crane sightings should be reported to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, 701-848-2466, or Audubon, 701-442-5474; the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, 701-328-6300, or to local game wardens across the state. Reports help biologists locate important whooping crane habitat areas, monitor marked birds, determine survival and population numbers, and identify times and migration routes.

Hunting from Duck Boats Requires Safety

Waterfowlers hunting from boats are encouraged to wear properly fitted life jackets while on the water.

 

Hunting jackets with life jackets already built in are light and comfortable to wear. In addition, wearing a life jacket will not only keep the overboard hunter afloat, but also slow the loss of critical body heat caused by exposure to cold water.

 

Capsizing and falling overboard from small boats are the most common types of fatal boating accidents for hunters.

Upland Bird Numbers Improving

North Dakota’s roadside surveys conducted in late July and August indicate pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge numbers are up from last year.

State Game and Fish Department upland game biologist RJ Gross said results of the annual upland late summer counts brought some good news. “We had good residual cover to start the year, and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing,” he said. “There were some areas that experienced abnormally dry periods throughout the summer, but nesting appeared to be successful.”

Total pheasants observed per 100 miles are up 38% from last year, but 14% below the 10-year average. Broods per 100 miles are up 30% from last year and 16% below the 10-year average. Average brood size is up 10% from 2019 and 5% below the 10-year average. The final summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 100 brood routes across North Dakota.

“While these numbers are encouraging, it’s important to remember that bird numbers in the last five years have been lower than what upland game hunters have been used to for many years, due to changing habitat conditions and the drought of 2017,” Gross said. “For context, these numbers put us about half-way back to where we were prior to the 2017 drought. Local populations are building back up, but they are not at the point yet of spreading out into new territories. Hunters will need to find localized hotspots of pheasants.”

Observers in the northwest counted 12 broods and 91 pheasants per 100 miles, up from five broods and 39 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six.

Results from the southeast showed five broods and 41 pheasants per 100 miles, down from six broods and 51 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was five.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicated eight broods and 70 pheasants per 100 miles, up from six broods and 41 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six chicks.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, showed three broods and 22 pheasants per 100 miles, compared to three broods and 15 pheasants last year. Average brood size was six.

Sharptails observed per 100 miles are up 54% statewide, and partridge are up 45%.

Brood survey results show statewide increases in number of grouse and broods observed per 100 miles. Observers recorded two sharptail broods and 21 sharptails per 100 miles. Average brood size was six.

Although partridge numbers have shown a slight increase, Gross said most of the partridge harvest is incidental while hunters pursue grouse or pheasants. Partridge densities in general, he said, are too low to target. Observers recorded one partridge brood and 10 partridge per 100 miles. Average brood size was 10.

The pheasant season opens Oct. 10 and continues through Jan. 3, 2021. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Oct. 3-4.

The grouse and partridge seasons opened Sept. 12 and continues through Jan. 3, 2021.

Mountain Lion Season Opens Sept. 4

North Dakota’s mountain lion season opens statewide Friday, Sept. 4, and hunters are reminded the use of dogs is prohibited until after the close of the deer gun season.

Beginning Nov. 23, in addition to legal firearms and archery equipment, pursuing with dogs is allowed.

The season is only open to North Dakota residents.

For season information, including zones and limits, visit the North Dakota 2020-21 Hunting and Trapping Guide on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov.

Grouse and Partridge Seasons Open Sept. 12

North Dakota’s hunting seasons for grouse and partridge will open Saturday, Sept. 12.

 

Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. Sharptails, ruffed grouse and Hungarian partridge each have a daily limit of three and a possession limit of 12.

 

All hunters, regardless of age, must have a general game and habitat license. In addition, hunters age 16 and older need a small game license.

 

Hunters are urged to keep up with the daily rural fire danger index, issued by the National Weather Service, to alert the public to conditions that may be conducive to accidental starting or spread of fires. County governments also have the authority to adopt penalties for violations of county restrictions related to burning bans. These restrictions apply regardless of the daily fire danger index and remain in place until each county’s commission rescinds the ban. Information on current fire danger indexes is available through ndresponse.gov.

For other season information and regulations, hunters should consult the North Dakota 2020-21 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

Hunters Reminded of Big Game Transport Rules

Big game hunters are reminded of requirements for transporting deer, elk and moose carcasses and carcass parts into and within North Dakota, as a precaution against the possible spread of chronic wasting disease.

 

Hunters are prohibited from transporting into or within North Dakota the whole carcass of deer, elk, moose or other members of the cervid family from states and provinces with documented occurrences of CWD in wild populations, or in captive cervids.

 

In addition, hunters harvesting a white-tailed deer or mule deer from deer hunting units 3A1, 3B1, 3F2, 4B and 4C, a moose from moose hunting units M10 and M11, or an elk from elk hunting units E2 and E6, cannot transport the whole carcass outside the unit. However, hunters can transport the whole carcass between adjoining CWD carcass restricted units.

 

North Dakota Game and Fish Department district game wardens will be enforcing all CWD transportation laws.

 

Hunters are encouraged to plan accordingly and be prepared to quarter a carcass, cape out an animal, or clean a skull in the field, or find a taxidermist or meat locker within the unit or state who can assist.

 

Game and Fish maintains several freezers throughout the region for submitting heads for CWD testing, beginning Sept. 1.

 

For questions about how to comply with this regulation, hunters should contact a district game warden or other department staff ahead of the planned hunt.

 

The following lower-risk portions of the carcass can be transported:

 

  • Meat that has been boned out.
  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
  • Meat that is cut and wrapped either commercially or privately.
  • Hides with no heads attached.
  • Skull plates with antlers attached with no hide or brain tissue present.
  • Intact skulls with the hide, eyes, lower jaw and associated soft tissue removed, and no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present
  • Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Upper canine teeth, also known as buglers, whistlers or ivories.
  • Finished taxidermy heads.

Game and Fish Allocate Six Bighorn Sheep Licenses

The Game and Fish Department allocated six bighorn sheep licenses for the 2020 hunting season, one more than last year.

 

Two licenses were issued in units B1 and B4, and one license in B3. In addition, one license, as authorized under North Dakota Century Code, was auctioned in March by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, from which all proceeds are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota.

 

The number of once-in-a-lifetime licenses allotted to hunters is based on data collected from the Game and Fish Department’s summer population survey. Brett Wiedmann, big game management biologist in Dickinson, said results showed a 22% increase in ram numbers from 2019 due primarily to high lamb survival last year.

 

“Our objective this hunting season is to maximize hunter opportunity in the northern badlands where ram numbers are strong while continuing to reduce the number of rams in the southern badlands, to lessen the risk of transmitting disease to the northern population,” Wiedmann said, while mentioning the concern is the ongoing effects of the bacterial pneumonia outbreak that was first detected in 2014 that resulted in a loss of 15-20% of the adult population.

 

Wiedmann noted there are more than 300 bighorn sheep north of Interstate 94, but fewer than 20 south of the interstate.

 

Game and Fish announced in February the status of the bighorn sheep hunting season would be determined after completion of the summer population survey. Prospective hunters were required to apply for a bighorn license earlier this year on the bighorn sheep, moose and elk application. A record 16,935 applicants applied for bighorn sheep. Successful applicants have been notified.

Deer Archery Season Opens Sept. 4

North Dakota’s deer archery season opens Friday, Sept. 4 at noon and continues through Jan. 3, 2021.

 

Bowhunters can buy a license online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov; by calling 800-406-6409; or at vendors linked to the Game and Fish Department’s online licensing system. Hunters who purchase bow licenses at a vendor location will receive a tag at time of purchase; otherwise, hunters who purchase their license over the phone or personal computer should allow for several days to receive their tag in the mail.

 

Bowhunters must follow all regulations of the managing agency when using tree stands, ground blinds and game cameras on public hunting areas, including displaying an equipment registration number, or the owner’s name, address and telephone number, on all equipment left unattended on Game and Fish wildlife management areas.

 

In addition, hunting big game over bait is prohibited on both public and private land in deer hunting units 3A1, 3A2, 3A3 north of U.S. Highway 2, 3B1, 3C west of the Missouri River, 3E1, 3E2, 3F1, 3F2, 4A, 4B and 4C.

 

Hunters should refer to the 2020 deer hunting guide for season information and regulations.

Hunters Reminded of Baiting Restrictions

Hunters are reminded it is unlawful to hunt big game over bait, or place bait to attract big game for the purpose of hunting, in deer units 3A1, 3A2, 3A3 north of U.S. Highway 2, 3B1, 3C west of the Missouri River, 3E1, 3E2, 3F1, 3F2, 4A, 4B and 4C.

 

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department strongly discourages recreational feeding of wildlife within these units. The restriction is in place to help slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease of deer, moose and elk that can cause long-term population declines if left unchecked.

 

In addition, baiting for any purpose is prohibited on all Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas. Hunting big game over bait is also prohibited on all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas, U.S. Forest Service national grasslands, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed lands, and all North Dakota state trust, state park and state forest service lands.

 

More information on CWD can be found at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov.