North Dakota pheasants begin to recover and rebuild, and it should be a good season for hunters willing to do a little work
By Tom Carpenter
In a refrain heard across the pheasant range this year, pheasants in North Dakota survived what was (by most accounts) a brutal winter, and then the birds prospered from the lush habitat that developed from the leftover moisture and continued precipitation.
While North Dakota isn’t back to heyday pheasant numbers, there should be birds enough to hunt this year. Read on for details.
“Winter2018-2019 dished out above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures for most of the winter,” says RJ Gross, upland game biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “However, spring crowing counts were up 6%. So it appears that pheasants came through just fine.”
“Then, spring nesting conditions were near ideal for pheasants,” he adds. “This was the first spring in a few years that we had both good residual cover and timely spring rains that led to lush green cover for nesting birds.”
HABITAT CONDITION AND BROODS
North Dakota habitat is in good shape due to ample summer moisture.
“but crops are going to be late coming off due to a later spring planting,” Gross points out. “Cover will be lush and full, so hunters should be ready for that too.” Bottom line? You may not want to be in a rush to plan your North Dakota excursion this fall, as later hunting may well be a hotter and more productive ticket.
“Overall, total pheasants observed per 100 miles are up 10% from last year,” says Gross., “In addition, broods per 100 miles are up 17%, though the average brood size is down 5%. The final summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across North Dakota.”
“There should be more young roosters compared to years past,” says Gross. August roadside survey number details bear that out.
Birds are up 32% from last year, and the number of broods up 27%. Observers counted 6 broods and 51 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 6.
Total pheasants were down 7% and broods observed up 2% from 2018. For every 100 survey miles, observers counted an average of 6 broods and 41 pheasants. The average brood size was 5 chicks.
Generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, the Northeast showed 3 broods and 15 pheasants per 100 miles. Average brood size was 4.
“In the Southwest, which is our primary pheasant district and most popular hunting area, local pheasant populations are slowly re-building and improving,” says Gross.
But Gross says hunters should not overlook pheasant opportunities in northwestern and southeastern North Dakota. “Two good years of chick production should translate to more birds for hunters to pursue,” he said. Note the good numbers (above) for the Southeast’s roadside count.
“Pockets of habitat that held pheasants in years past are showing good increases in numbers,” says Gross. “However, pheasants are still recovering from the drought of 2017 and are not at the point of spreading out into marginal habitat yet … so really focus on the best habitat available.”
“That makes the formula for success simple,” he laughs. “Scout, walk. Repeat.”
IF YOU GO
The 2019 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5, 2020. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Oct. 5-6.
Nonresidents should note that North Dakota PLOTS (Private Lands Open to Sportsmen) acres are not open to them until one week into the season, October 19.