The number of rooster pheasants heard crowing this spring was up 6 percent statewide from 2013. Even though the breeding population isn’t as high as the mid-2000s, spring weather was good for nesting hens, and nesting cover on the landscape is better than expected.
The number of pheasant hunters in recent years has been hanging around 85,000, with a total harvest running between 600,000-650,000 roosters.
Unfortunately, these harvest numbers will eventually decline as more Conservation Reserve Program and native grassland acres are removed from the landscape.
Weather and habitat conditions, which affect juvenile pheasant recruitment every year, were mostly favorable this spring, and the hope is for an improvement in fall pheasant numbers compared to 2013.
Wild turkey numbers remain low in several areas of the state that previously had high populations, a result of poor production the last four of five years.
On the plus side, habitat conditions appear favorable in much of the state and spring weather conditions were more conducive for nesting and brooding hens than in 2013.
Even if license numbers decline again this fall, with some preseason scouting and landowner contacts, hunters should be able to locate birds, especially if they concentrate their efforts along wooded river bottoms, drainages and forested areas.
Sharp-tailed grouse hunters will likely have improved opportunities this fall compared to 2013.
The Game and Fish Department’s spring dancing ground census indicated a statewide population increase of roughly 5-10 percent.
Late fall moisture combined with ample amounts of early spring rains produced excellent nesting and brood-rearing cover. Preliminary indications from the summer brood survey suggest that grouse have responded favorably to the improved habitat conditions in all areas of the state.
This fall, hunters may see slightly higher numbers of Hungarian partridge in the field compared to last year.
Ducks and geese
Excellent wetland conditions and high waterfowl numbers were found again during the Game and Fish Department’s 67th annual breeding duck survey this spring.
Both the spring breeding duck index and 2014 water index were the second highest on record.
All species were above their long-term averages, and Game and Fish biologists predict a fall flight of ducks from North Dakota that will be similar to those of 2007 through 2011.
Duck numbers in North Dakota have remained high since 1994 because of exceptional water conditions and abundant nesting cover provided by CRP. However, as CRP acres and native grasslands continue to decline across the state, biologists expect duck production to decline.
Numbers of resident Canada geese, western prairie Canada geese and arctic-nesting tallgrass prairie Canada geese, snow geese and Ross’ geese all remain high, and goose hunters should again find excellent opportunities this fall.
While last winter was not particularly snowy, it was colder than average and that could have reduced fawn production and survival rates.
As such, for the 2014 deer hunting season, Game and Fish allocated 48,000 licenses, 11,500 fewer than 2013, and the lowest license total since 1980. Reducing the number of licenses, particularly those for antlerless deer, is designed to stem the trend of declining deer numbers.
Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to show signs of recovery following severe winters of 2008-10, which resulted in deer numbers declining by nearly 50 percent since 2007.
This is the second consecutive year since 2007 that the spring mule deer index was higher than the previous year. The 2014 spring index was 19 percent higher than 2013, but still 7 percent lower than the long-term average.
Mule deer hunting opportunities this fall will be similar to 2013, with 1,350 antlered mule deer licenses available, an increase of 200 from 2013.
North Dakota’s mourning dove breeding population changes relatively little from year to year. That means dove hunters should experience good opportunities again during the first two weeks of September, as this year’s reproductive effort by mourning doves looks good.
The mid-continent sandhill crane population is in good shape heading into the fall hunting season. The 2014 spring index will most likely be in the top 10 for the population after numbers are finalized.
After several years of increasing numbers, most furbearer species are now trending downward. Despite these downward trends, fur harvesters will still find good numbers of coyotes, raccoons and skunks in central and eastern North Dakota. Conversely, spring surveys indicate numbers of muskrats remain low throughout the state, similar to last year.
Trend information and research suggests that the mountain lion population in western North Dakota continues to decline as well.
Cable device (such as snares) users are required to register on the Department’s website (www.gf.nd.gov) prior to going afield this year.