With the busy fall hunting seasons, I often wish I was able get more important updates worked into my weekly column. From deer to pheasants, ducks and geese—did I forget fall fishing? There’s just such a frantic pace of information, and I guess that’s a good thing.
Here are a few items that may be important to North Dakota hunters and anglers now and into the future.
Fall mule deer
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department‘s fall mule deer survey indicated the population continues to recover in the Badlands.
Biologists counted 2,157 mule deer in the aerial survey that occurred in October, up from 1,958 in 2014. The buck-to-doe ratio of 0.42 (0.50 in 2014) is similar to the long-term average of 0.43 bucks per doe, while the fawn-to-doe ratio of 0.84 (0.95 in 2014) is slightly below the long-term average of 0.90 fawns per doe.
“The buck-to-doe ratio remains stable, and we had another year of good fawn production,” Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for Game and Fish, said. “Overall, the numbers are encouraging.”
The fall aerial survey, conducted specifically to study demographics, covers 24 study areas and 306.3 square miles in western North Dakota. Biologists survey the same study areas in the spring of each year to determine population abundance.
Fall salmon run
Fisheries crews completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System after collecting roughly 500,000 eggs.
Dave Fryda, Missouri River System supervisor, said the 2015 salmon spawn was a challenge, with almost all of the eggs taken from Lake Sakakawea. Only a few were collected from the Missouri River below Garrison Dam.
“Dropping water temperature combined with declining daylight are major cues for salmon to spawn, but water temperatures this year were slow to cool and remained among the warmest we have seen through the entire spawn,” Fryda said.
Fryda said the average size of Lake Sakakawea females was 11 pounds, the largest documented since the salmon program began. “The average size and condition of females was exceptional, but overall numbers were not what we expected,” he said. “South Dakota and Montana had the same challenges collecting eggs this year.”
Fryda said the abundance of young male salmon, also called jacks, was a bright spot. “Jacks are 1-year-old male salmon that become sexually mature, and typically a high abundance of these young males will forecast a good run over the next couple of years,” he said.
Fryda said these yearling males are from the stocking of 208,000 salmon in Lake Sakakawea in 2014. The eggs collected this fall should produce 150,000 to 200,000 salmon, and plans are to stock all of those fish in Lake Sakakawea in 2016. None are scheduled for the river below Garrison Dam, Fryda said.
Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish Department and Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery personnel collect eggs and transport them to the hatchery.
Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend several months in the hatchery before stocking in Lake Sakakawea.
Late season hunting
Several national wildlife refuges in North Dakota now are open to upland game bird hunting through the end of the season on Jan. 3.
Portions of each of the following NWRs are open: Arrowwood, Audubon, Des Lacs, J. Clark Salyer, Lake Alice, Lake Zahl, Long Lake, Lostwood, Tewaukon (pheasants only) and Upper Souris.
National wildlife refuges are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hunters are reminded that use of nontoxic shot is required on all service lands.