It looked like a mid-April blizzard, followed by a wet May, would hurt early pheasant nesting efforts, but Game and Fish biologists feel the adverse weather may have delayed the primary nesting until after the May rains ended. That rain also enhanced vegetation growth across the pheasant range, so the grass cover was in good shape when hens did start nesting.
Summer brood counts aren’t tabulated until early September, but spring pheasant crowing counts were only down 11 percent statewide from 2012, and were comparable to 2011 counts.
In addition, the incubating and hatching period from late June through mid-July was warm and relatively dry, which was good for nesting and brooding pheasant.
License numbers in almost all hunting units will be somewhat lower than last year, as turkey populations are still recovering from several years of poor production. Habitat conditions around the state this summer, however, are quite good for turkeys, and weather conditions were favorable for nesting and brooding hens.
As a best guess, early spring rains likely caused many first nesting attempts to fail. The wildcard is how successful the second attempts will be. The northern tier of the state was not impacted as much by last summer’s drought, which led to better reproduction in 2012. Hunters should expect to see similar numbers of sharp-tailed grouse this hunting season compared to 2012.
This fall, hunters will see slightly lower numbers of partridge in the field compared to last year. Weather during nesting was wet and cold, causing hens to abandon nests. If second nesting attempts are successful, it could result in fair reproduction in some areas, but overall partridge numbers will be down.
Ducks and geese
Spring breeding duck numbers were down around 17 percent from 2012, but were still well above average. Spring mallard numbers were slightly higher than last year.
North Dakota also has a high resident Canada goose population, and migrant Canada geese and snow geese are also well above population objectives. However, the April snowstorm and cold May looks to have reduced production of young resident Canada geese this year.
White-tailed deer numbers remain below objectives in most units due to prolonged effects of severe winters during 2008-11, which not only increased adult mortality, but also reduced fawn production.
As such, Game and Fish allocated 59,500 licenses for the 2013 deer hunting season, 5,800 fewer than 2012 and the lowest number since 1983.
Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands are showing signs of recovery following record low fawn production after the severe winters of 2008-11, as the 2013 spring mule deer index was up for the first time in six years. However, the overall index is still 22 percent below the long-term average.
Mule deer hunting opportunities this fall will be similar to 2012, with 1,150 antlered mule deer licenses available, 50 fewer than last year. Game and Fish is not issuing any antlerless mule deer licenses once again in hunting units 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F.
North Dakota typically has a sizable population of mourning doves breeding in the state. This year, North Dakota’s breeding population ranked third nationwide, based on a call-count survey in late May.
The mid-continent sandhill crane population may hit a record high this year.
This year, the two crane hunting zones will have the same season lengths (58 days) and dates, but the daily bag limits are still different – three per day in zone 1 and two per day in zone 2. Possession limits are increased this year to three times the daily bag limit.
The Game and Fish Department removed the trapping quota for fishers this year, instead establishing a one-week season, with the bag limit still one fisher per trapper
Spring surveys indicate coyote, raccoon and skunk numbers increased statewide from 2012, while the muskrat population has crashed statewide and is currently 84 percent below the 20-year average.
Survey results are mixed for beavers, fox and mink, depending on the region. All three furbearers are well below their long-term averages, although fox numbers are higher than in recent years.