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.

2020 Waterfowl Season

North Dakota’s 2020 waterfowl season opens for residents Sept. 26, while nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl Oct. 3.

 

The season for swans opens Oct. 3 for both residents and nonresidents who have purchased a swan license.

 

Hunters may take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards of which two may be hens, three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, one scaup and one pintail. Hunters can take two additional blue-winged teal from Sept. 26 through Oct. 11. The daily limit of five mergansers may include no more than two hooded mergansers. For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.

 

The hunting season for Canada geese will close Dec. 19 in the eastern zone, Dec. 24 in the western zone and Jan. 1 in the Missouri River zone. The season for whitefronts closes Dec. 6, while the season on light geese is open through Jan. 1.

 

Shooting hours for all geese are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Oct. 31. Beginning Nov. 1, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day.

 

Extended shooting hours for all geese are permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset on Saturdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 28, and on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Nov. 29 through the end of each season.

 

The bag limit for Canada geese during the regular season is eight daily and 24 in possession, except in the Missouri River zone where the limit is five daily and 15 in possession.

 

The daily limit on whitefronts is three with nine in possession, and light geese has a daily limit of 50 with no possession limit.

 

In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or conservation PLOTS (Private Land Open To Sportsmen) areas from Oct. 10-16.

 

Hunters who do not HIP certify when they buy a North Dakota license can add it through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling 888-634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license. Those who registered to hunt North Dakota’s spring light goose season or August Management Take/Early September Canada goose season do not have to register with HIP again, as it is required in each state only once per year.

 

Hunters should refer to the North Dakota 2020-21 Hunting and Trapping Guide for further details on the waterfowl season.

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.

Hunters Asked to Submit Wing Envelopes

Hunters can help in the effort to manage upland game birds in North Dakota by collecting feathers from harvested birds and sending in wing envelopes.

 

Birds included in the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s upland game wing survey, which has been in practice for decades, are ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, turkeys and ruffed grouse.

 

Collecting enough pheasant samples is typically never a problem, but securing enough sharptail and partridge feathers can be.

 

Game and Fish biologists will take as many sharptail and partridge feathers as they can get because the more collected, the better the data. Biologists can determine if the birds are male or female, age ratios, survival, nesting success, hatch dates and overall production.

 

What biologists learn from samples is vital to helping manage North Dakota’s upland game birds.

 

Instructions for submitting wing data are printed on the envelope.

 

Hunters interested in receiving wing envelopes should visit the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov.

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.

Fire Danger Index for Fall Outdoor Activity

As hunting seasons and other fall outdoor activities get underway, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department reminds hunters, anglers and other enthusiasts to be aware of the daily fire danger index.

 

Recent high daytime temperatures, combined with typical dry, late-summer ground conditions, has caused an elevated fire danger index in some counties that will influence outdoor activities.

 

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.

 

In addition, county governments 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.

 

The fire danger index can change daily depending on temperature, wind and precipitation forecasts. If the index reaches the extreme category, open burning is prohibited; off-road travel with a motorized vehicle is prohibited, except for people engaged in a trade, business or occupation where it is required; and smoking is restricted to inside of vehicles, hard surface areas, homes or in approved buildings.

 

Information on current fire danger indexes is available at NDResponse.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.