GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The numbers have been out for a few weeks now, and all signs point to the potential for good hunting when North Dakota’s pheasant season opens Saturday.
Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said results from the agency’s annual roadside surveys in July and August showed a 30 percent increase in total pheasant numbers from last year.
Brood observations were up 23 percent, and the average brood size increased 9 percent.
Game and Fish conducts the survey on 259 runs along 105 brood routes across the state.
In an interview with Game and Fish videographer Tom Jensen posted on the agency’s website, Kohn said the southwest again will offer the best hunting prospects. In places, he said, numbers even could rival the glory days of the early 2000s, when setaside land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program was at its highest.
At the peak in the mid-2000s, North Dakota had about 3 million acres enrolled in CRP, a number that now is down to about 1.7 million acres, Kohn said.
The southeast also should offer good hunting prospects, he said.
“The southeast was kind of a surprise to us this year,” Kohn said in the website video, adding hunters should see more birds than they’ve encountered in the past five or six years.
“I think those folks that hunt in the southeast that are usually seeing lower numbers are probably going to see a few more birds in that neck of the woods.”
Matt Olson, regional biologist for Pheasants Forever in Lisbon, N.D., said he’s hearing good reports from chapter members across the state’s pheasant range. Even the northwest, where pheasant counts declined in the Game and Fish roadside survey, looks encouraging.
“The folks I’ve talked to up there said they’ve been seeing great numbers of pheasants and partridge and grouse, as well,” Olson said. “That’s been the surprising thing.”
Echoing Kohn’s prediction, Olson said he also is seeing plenty of pheasants in the southeast where he lives.
“It seems like it’s pretty varied on how old the broods are,” Olson said. “Some of the young roosters are close to full color, and some are quite a bit smaller, but all in all, just driving out in the country, I see a lot of birds out there. I’m optimistic this year.”
Given roadside survey results, hunters likely will shoot more roosters than last year. In 2014, hunters in North Dakota shot 587,730 roosters, an increase of more than 140,000 from 2013, when the harvest dipped to 447,000, the lowest in more than a decade.
After a favorable winter and good spring breeding season, the table is set for a pretty decent hunting season. Olson’s optimism isn’t unfounded.
“They really are an extraordinarily resilient species,” he said. “If you give them nice winters and a couple of nice nesting seasons linked together, it really can bring those bird numbers back pretty fast. We’re starting to climb back up there.”
That’s good news in a state where pheasant season is one of the biggest events on the outdoors calendar.
“It’s a big industry,” Olson said. “I’d say it definitely stands out as THE big opening day now.”
North Dakota’s pheasant season opens most places on Saturday, Oct. 10, and continues through Jan. 3. The bag limit is three daily, 12 in possession. For more information, see the North Dakota Hunting Regulations Guide or check out the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.