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Ring-necked pheasant

2012 North Dakota hunting outlook
North Dakota should have plenty of opportunities for hunters to pursue waterfowl, pheasants, grouse and deer this fall. The following summary of hunting prospects is a condensed version of an article that originally appeared in the N.D. Game and Fish Department’s 2012 August-September issue of North Dakota Outdoors magazine.

For details on season dates, bag limits and other regulations, consult the appropriate annual hunting guides, available at license vendors around the state, and on the N.D. Game and Fish Department’s website at

(Photo courtesy of N.D. Game and Fish Department)


  • Pheasants
  • Turkeys
  • Grouse
  • Partridge
  • Ducks & Geese
  • Deer
  • Doves
  • Cranes
  • Furbearers
Ring-necked pheasants
Because habitat and weather are important factors in the number of pheasants hunters see each fall, last winter’s mild conditions were a welcome surprise, providing a jumpstart for spring breeding.

Winters from 2009-11 were hard on pheasants, and those winters were followed by cool, wet conditions during brooding, so fewer young birds were recruited into the fall population. Knowing this, Game and Fish biologists expected this spring’s rooster crowing counts might be down, but instead the index was up 10 percent statewide from 2011.

Habitat conditions and weather across the state during spring nesting and brooding were quite good.
Wild turkeys
Almost all hunting units have experienced a decline in turkey numbers, leading to fewer hunting licenses.

On a positive note, spring habitat conditions in much of the state looked quite good and the weather was almost ideal for nesting and brooding hens.
Sharp-tailed grouse
Spring nesting conditions were optimal, with relatively mild weather across the state.
Dry conditions in southwestern North Dakota could have reduced insect production and hurt brood survival. The state’s northern tier had timely precipitation, but only time will tell how grouse respond.

Hunters should expect to see slightly increased numbers of sharp-tailed grouse this hunting season.
Hungarian partridge
Hunters should see slightly higher numbers of partridge in the field compared to last year.
A string of tough winters reduced the adult breeding population, but last winter should help the population recover heading into nesting season, and spring weather was favorable in many parts of the state. Timely rains could result in good insect production and successful brood survival.

Pockets of decent hunting may be found, but hunters will need to spend some time scouting in the mornings.
Ducks and geese
With large numbers of birds returning to nest in North Dakota, numbers of breeding ducks were the third highest on record, up 16 percent from last year, which was the 10th highest index on record. The 2012 breeding duck index was 112 percent above the long-term average.

North Dakota also has a high resident Canada goose population, and migrant Canada geese and snow geese are also well above population objectives.

White-tailed deer
This year, the Game and Fish Department made available 65,300 licenses for the regular gun season, which is 44,650 fewer than 2011. This is the lowest number of deer licenses since 1988, due to a combination of three consecutive hard winters, and an epizootic hemorrhagic disease outbreak in southwestern North Dakota in 2011.

Currently, all hunting units in the state are below deer population management goals except 3E2 and 4F. The large cut in licenses in 2012 is necessary to allow deer populations to increase.

Mule deer
Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to struggle following a string of severe winters. The fallout is a decrease in adult mule deer survival and the three lowest measurements of fawn production on record.

In response to the continued decline, hunting licenses were reduced for the third consecutive year, and no antlerless mule deer licenses were issued in the badlands units (4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, 4F, 3B1 and 3B2) in 2012.

North Dakota’s mourning dove breeding population doesn’t change much from year to year. That’s good since the state typically has a sizable population of breeding doves in the state. Nationwide, North Dakota’s breeding population ranked fifth, based on a call-count survey in late May.

Dove hunters should have good opportunities during the first two weeks of September.
Sandhill cranes
The mid-continent sandhill crane population is in good shape heading into hunting season.
Staging areas are abundant in the state and some areas that were flooded last year may again be attractive to cranes. Overall, sandhill crane hunting opportunities should be good statewide this fall.
Trappers legally harvested fishers for the first time last year in eastern North Dakota, and the opportunity to pursue this large member of the weasel family has been expanded this year with an increased quota of 15 animals.

Despite some slightly decreasing trends, coyotes and raccoons remain abundant throughout the state. Fox and skunk trends are down statewide compared to last year. Beaver numbers are similar to last year.









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