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.

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.

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.

Federal Duck Stamp Required Sept. 1

Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are reminded a federal duck stamp is required beginning Sept. 1. Waterfowl includes ducks, geese, swans, mergansers and coots.


This year’s 2020-21 federal duck stamp is available for electronic purchase through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s website, gf.nd.gov, instant licensing telephone number, 800-406-6409, or at license vendors registered with the department’s licensing system. Physical stamps are not available at North Dakota license vendors, but they can still be purchased at many U.S. Postal Service offices.


The electronic stamp is a purchase item like any other hunting or fishing license. When the purchase is completed the electronic stamp is valid immediately. Federal Duck Stamp will be printed on the license certificate, along with an expiration date 45 days from the date of purchase. The actual physical stamp will be sent by postal mail.


The physical stamp is processed and sent by the official duck stamp vendor in Texas, and should arrive to the individual buyer well before the expiration date printed on the electronic license. The physical stamp must remain in possession of the hunter after the 45-day electronic stamp has expired. Individuals who have questions regarding the status of their physical stamp can contact the federal duck stamp vendor customer service number at 800-852-4897.


The federal duck stamp has a fee of $25. An additional $1.50 fee is added to cover shipping and handling costs of the physical stamp.

Electronic Posting Pilot Study in Ramsey, Richland and Slope Counties

Hunters in Ramsey Richland and Slope counties are encouraged to use the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s online map resources this fall to evaluate electronic posting, a pilot study that was authorized by the 2019 state legislature.

Private land that is posted electronically for the 2020-21 hunting season is viewable on a computer or smartphone, or can be printed from the Department’s website, gf.nd.gov.

A benefit of electronic posting is the ability for hunters to determine a point of contact for the landowner, or authorized individual who posted the land. Point of contact is included on the Department’s PLOTS Guide Viewer map service application.

Hunters are reminded to be respectful of landowners and be mindful of their daily schedules, as farmers will be busy with fall duties, including harvesting crops, moving cattle and hauling bales.

Hunters using the application will help evaluate electronic posting as an option for landowners to post land into the future. The electronic posting study will conclude with a brief survey. The information collected will help the North Dakota Legislature’s Interim Natural Resources Committee determine the usability of the electronic posting application and provide direction for changes required to existing law.

A total of 79 landowners in the three counties are participating in the pilot study by electronically posting their land, totaling 268 parcels and 38,600 acres.

More information on electronic posting is available by visiting the Game and Fish website.


Guide and Outfitter Exam Scheduled

The next guide and outfitter written examination is Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department office in Bismarck.

Preregistration is required no later than Sept. 11 by calling the Department’s enforcement office at 701-328-6604. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the North Dakota Department of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be followed. Details will be provided upon registration.

In addition to passing a written exam, qualifications for becoming a guide include a background check for criminal and game and fish violations; certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and standard first aid; and employment by or contract with a licensed hunting outfitter.

Hunting outfitter eligibility requirements include the guide qualifications, as well as an individual must have held a hunting guide license for two years; and must have proof of liability insurance.

The test is given periodically to anyone interested in becoming a guide or outfitter in the state.

Duck Brood Numbers Up from Last Year

State Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 9% from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July duck production survey.

This year’s duck brood index was comparable to last year’s estimate and showed 4.5 broods per square mile, 52% above the long-term average (1965-2019). Average brood size was also similar at 6.8 ducklings per brood.

Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said observation conditions were better this year among most wetland types, but observers still struggled with getting good looks on most routes.

“Obstructed views by emergent vegetation is typical, but was slightly more problematic than average this year,” Szymanski said. “Routes in the northeast had recently received heavy rains, rewetting temporary and seasonal basins that had dried up during spring and expanded other waters into emergent and upland vegetation. These heavy rains likely affected brood distribution and negatively impacted nesting ducks using cover that had recently dried this spring, whereas over-water nesting species did quite well. The northeast region, known as having marginal or secondary habitat for upland game, most likely had duck nests lost due to flooded conditions because low-lying, previously wet areas likely represented some of the only nesting cover in many areas of this region in June.”

Despite inconsistent rainfall with little precipitation in spring, Szymanski said the July survey showed duck production was quite good across most of the state.

“Renesting efforts in the northeast part of the state should remain strong to help balance lower early season dabbling duck production in that region this year,” he said.

Observers also count water areas during the July duck brood survey, and this year’s water index was up 11% from last year, and 49% above the long-term average. Szymanski said wetland conditions were stable to declining across most of the state, except for the northeast region and other smaller, isolated areas.

“Generally, numbers and conditions of wetlands were fair to good on most routes, and very wet on our four most northeastern routes, starkly contrasting routes in the north central and central parts of the state that were fairly dry,” he added.

Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in mid-September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

The summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.

The survey started in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.

Pronghorn Applications Due Aug. 5

Hunters are reminded the deadline to apply for the 2020 pronghorn hunting season is Aug. 5.

Applicants can apply online by visiting the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov, or by calling 800-406-6409. A total of 1,790 licenses are available in 15 units.

The bow-only portion of the season is from Sept. 4 (noon) – Sept. 27. Anyone who draws a license can hunt pronghorn with a bow in the unit printed on the license.

From Oct. 2 (noon) – Oct. 18, hunters who still have a valid license can use legal firearms or archery equipment, and again must stay in the assigned unit.

The pronghorn license fee is $30 for ages 16 and older, and $10 for under age 16.

Only North Dakota residents are eligible to apply for a 2020 pronghorn license. Hunters who have accumulated bonus points and choose not to apply this year will not lose their points, but will not accrue one for next year. However, hunters who do not want a license in 2020 have the option to purchase a bonus point on the application.

Applicants should note that a general game and habitat license in required when applying. If the applicant has not already purchased one for the 2020-21 season, the license will be added to their cart upon checkout.

Put Garbage Where it Belongs

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reminds outdoor recreationists to keep it clean this summer by packing out all trash.


All garbage, including used fireworks, should be placed in a proper trash receptacle. If trash cans aren’t available, or are full, take the trash and dispose of it at home.


It is not uncommon to see garbage piling up around full trash containers. Styrofoam containers are not biodegradable, but are often found wedged in cattails, drifting or washed up on shore.


Tires, mattresses and kitchen appliances have found their way to public use areas. This illegal dumping is costly to clean up and takes a significant toll on the environment. Not only does it spoil the beauty of the land, it destroys habitat, has the potential to pollute North Dakota waters and can injure wildlife.


Littering violations should be reported by calling the Report All Poachers at 701-328-9921.