Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

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.

Good news for North Dakota pheasant numbers

Photocredit:NDGF
possible cutline: North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up 15% from the same time last year.

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North Dakota Outdoors

North Dakota Game and Fish Department

 

By Doug Leier

 While my college transcript might indicate otherwise, I’ve always enjoyed statistics. That’s about the most positive spin I can put on my appreciation for numbers while giving credit to the confusion some figures can portray.

 Case in point: If you took the 2019 pheasant hunting statistics at face value, you might think

the pheasant numbers were down. Our post season survey showed about 50,000 pheasant

hunters harvested 256,800 roosters (down 25%) in 2019, compared to 59,400 hunters and

342,600 roosters in 2018.

 Jesse Kolar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game management supervisor, said the overall harvest was down despite slight increases in most population survey estimates.

 “This was likely due to continued declines in hunter numbers and hunter days afield following

lower population trends,” he said. “We also still have lower densities of upland game birds

in areas that traditionally had much of the harvest – pheasant numbers were still low in the

southwest and sharptail numbers remained low in the badlands.”

 But numbers are just numbers, especially when you consider that some hunters only hunt the opening weekend of pheasant season and a number of those folks didn’t venture afield during last fall’s opener because of nasty weather. So, you need to factor that in.

 On top of that, North Dakota experienced an extremely wet fall in 2019 and you could argue that pheasant numbers were maybe much better than actual hunter harvest would indicate.

 It’s a long bridge I’m crossing to relate that this spring’s pheasant index is a snapshot of roosters that came through winter. Fact is, North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up 15% from the same time last year.

 R.J. Gross, Department upland game management biologist, said the number of roosters heard

crowing this spring was up statewide, with increases ranging from 1% to 18% in the primary

regions holding pheasants.

 Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive

specified 20-mile routes, stop at predetermined intervals, and count the number of pheasant

roosters heard crowing over a 2-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to the previous year’s data, providing a trend summary.

 “We entered spring with a larger breeding population compared to last year,” he said. “Hens

should be in good physical shape for nesting season and cover should be plentiful from the

residual moisture left from last fall.”

 However, Gross had concern with drought conditions in the western part of the state, and

insect availability to chicks during brood rearing.

 While the spring number is an indicator, Gross said it does not predict what the fall population

will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in late July and are completed by September, provide

a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall

pheasant population.

2019 Upland Game Seasons Summarized

After two years of lower upland game populations, fewer hunters pursued these game birds last fall. With that said, North Dakota’s 2019 pheasant and sharp-tailed grouse harvests were down from 2018, while the number of Hungarian partridge taken last year was similar to the year before, according to statistics compiled by the state Game and Fish Department.

 

Upland game management supervisor Jesse Kolar said the overall harvest was down despite slight increases in most population survey estimates.

 

“This was likely due to continued declines in hunter numbers and hunter days afield following lower population trends,” Kolar added. “We also still have lower densities of upland game birds in areas that traditionally had much of the harvest – pheasant numbers were still low in the southwest and sharptail numbers remained low in the badlands.”

 

Nearly 50,000 pheasant hunters harvested 256,800 roosters (down 25%) in 2018, compared to 59,400 hunters and 342,600 roosters in 2018.

 

Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken were Hettinger, Divide, Bowman, Williams and McLean.

 

In 2019, 14,000 hunters harvested 34,300 sharp-tailed grouse (down 34%), compared to 15,200 hunters and 51,800 birds in 2018.

 

Counties with the highest percentage of sharptails taken were Mountrail, Burleigh, Ward, Stutsman and McKenzie.

 

Last year, 11,900 hunters harvested 32,600 Hungarian partridge (up 5%). In 2018, nearly 12,500 hunters harvested 31,200 Huns.

 

Counties with the highest percentage of Huns taken were Mountrail, Ward, McLean, Williams and Divide.

Hunters Use Caution on Roadways

With wet conditions abating enough to allow many North Dakota producers to start or continue row crop harvest, the State Game and Fish Department reminds hunters to avoid parking along roadways or field approaches where vehicles could block travel by farm machinery.

“We’ve received numerous calls from farmers who are unable to get machinery around vehicles parked along rural roadways,” said Jeb Williams, wildlife division chief for Game and Fish. “As fields continue to dry out, we’ll see more and more harvest activity, and we urge hunters to keep that in mind as they are choosing where to park when accessing hunting areas.”

Williams said traveling hunters should also watch for approaching farm machinery and pull well to the side of the road or find an approach when meeting combines, grain trucks or tractors pulling equipment. “The window for harvest is tight this year,” Williams added. “We urge hunters to keep that in mind until harvest activity winds down.”

Be Wary of Travel Conditions for Pheasant Opener

Current weather conditions are making travel difficult as pheasant hunting season kicks off this weekend.

With heavy snow in much of the state covering roads and fields that were already saturated, travel on section line trails, unimproved roads and in harvested grain fields where hunting might take place will be nearly impossible.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is asking hunters to be aware of on- and off-road conditions, and strongly discourages driving on soft, muddy roads, trails and section lines.

North Dakota’s pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5, 2020. The daily limit is three roosters with 12 in possession.

Youth Pheasant Weekend Oct. 5-6

North Dakota’s two-day youth pheasant season is Oct. 5-6. Legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger may hunt roosters statewide.

Resident youth hunters, regardless of age, must possess a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate and general game and habitat license. Nonresident youth hunters from states that provide a reciprocal licensing agreement for North Dakota residents qualify for North Dakota resident licenses. Otherwise, nonresident youth hunters must purchase a nonresident small game license.

Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. Youth ages 12 and older need to have passed a certified hunter education course. The daily bag limit and all other regulations for the regular pheasant season apply.

An adult at least 18 years of age must accompany the youth hunter in the field. The adult may not carry a firearm.

See the North Dakota 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide for additional information.

Hunters Asked to Submit Wing Envelopes

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is once again asking upland game hunters to help biologists monitor hatching dates and reproductive rates by submitting wings and appropriate feathers/legs in wing envelopes this fall.

Harvested birds provide a good random sample that biologists use to assess the ratio of juveniles to adults, and estimate the average ages of harvested juveniles.

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), or contact the department’s main office in Bismarck by phone (701-328-6300) or email (ndgf@nd.gov).

In addition, Game and Fish district offices have a supply of wing envelopes for distribution. District offices are located at Devils Lake, Jamestown, Riverdale, Dickinson, Williston and Lonetree Wildlife Management Area near Harvey.

Pheasant, Sharptail and Partridge Numbers Up

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

State Game and Fish Department upland game biologist RJ Gross said the survey shows total pheasants observed per 100 miles are up 10% from last year. In addition, broods per 100 miles are up 17%, while the average brood size is down 5%. The final summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across North Dakota.

“This was the first year in a while that we’ve had good residual cover to start the year, and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing,” Gross said. “In the southwest portion of the state, which is our primary pheasant district and most popular hunting area, local populations are slowly improving.”

Gross said hunters should not overlook pheasant opportunities in northwest and southeast North Dakota. “Two good years of chick production should translate to more birds for hunters to pursue,” he said.

Statistics from the northwest indicate pheasants are up 49% from last year, with broods up 75%. Observers recorded five broods and 39 pheasants per 100 miles. Average brood size was six.

Results from the southeast show birds are up 32% from last year, and the number of broods up 27%. Observers counted six broods and 51 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was six.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 7% and broods observed up 2% from 2018. For every 100 survey miles, observers counted an average of six broods and 41 pheasants. The average brood size was five chicks.

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

Sharptails observed per 100 miles are up 113% statewide from 2018, and partridge are up 58%.

Upland game management supervisor Jesse Kolar said sharptail numbers are still roughly 50% below 2012-15. “However, we observed slight increases in all metrics this year during our surveys, especially in counties east of the Missouri River where we observed the highest numbers of grouse per 100 miles since 2013,” he said.

Brood survey results show statewide increases in number of grouse and broods observed per 100 miles, and in average brood size. Observers recorded 1.7 sharptail broods and 13.6 sharptails per 100 miles. Average brood size was five.

Although partridge numbers have shown a slight increase, Gross said the majority 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 0.5 partridge broods and 6.8 partridge per 100 miles. Average brood size was 10.

The 2019 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5, 2020. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Oct. 5-6.

The 2019 grouse and partridge seasons open Sept. 14 and continue through Jan. 5, 2020.

Small Game, Waterfowl and Furbearer Regulations Set

North Dakota’s 2019 small game, waterfowl and furbearer regulations are set and most season structures are similar to last year.

Noteworthy items include:

  • Opening day for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers for North Dakota residents is Sept. 21. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota Sept. 28.
  • The daily limit on pintails is reduced from two to one.
  • River otter season limit is increased from 15 to 20.
  • The fisher trapping season is expanded almost statewide, except for Bottineau and Rolette counties, which remain closed.
  • The tree squirrel season is extended to Feb. 28.
  • Veterans and members of the Armed Forces (including National Guard and Reserves) on active duty, who possess a resident hunting license, may hunt waterfowl Sept. 14-15.
  • The prairie chicken and sage grouse seasons will remain closed due to low populations.
  • In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or Private Land Open To Sportsmen areas from Oct. 12-18.

Hunters and trappers can find the North Dakota 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide – which includes upland game, migratory game bird and furbearer/trapping regulations and other information – by visiting the state Game and Fish Department’s website, gf.nd.gov. Printed guides will be available at vendor locations in mid-August.

For a complete listing of opening and closing dates, and daily and possession limits, refer to the table on pages 4-5 of the guide.