Drought is hitting hard and adding up in North Dakota. Do your homework before this year’s hunt.
By Rachel Bush
There is not an area within North Dakota this year that is not affected by the current drought. Drought conditions across the state range from moderate to exceptional (see map below).
North Dakota was primed for a banner year for upland gamebird production. We had a mild and open winter, and hens came out of it in prime condition. But a dry spring and even dryer summer is providing us with some pause as we look at conditions on the ground.
If we look closer at the state though, there are a few rays of hope. The southwest part of the state, our traditional stronghold for pheasants, is in a drought but did receive some early spring moisture and as luck would have it caught several of the rains that moved through the state recently.
If we move toward the southeast, the moisture situation is a little better. Where you find areas of habitat, chances are the bugs have hatched and pheasant chicks are feasting.
North Dakota did receive some timely rain across much of the State in early July that will benefit pheasants and grouse by creating better conditions for a bug hatch.
Brood reports from staff have been limited this year, and official counts from North Dakota Game and Fish will not be known until September. Those broods that have been spotted are large broods, so that’s good news.
If we look at what the drought means for habitat, we did have some delayed growth on nesting cover early this spring, and we had cooperators delay planting habitat due to concerns with the lack of moisture.
While North Dakota has lost a lot of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in the last 10 to 15 years, we still have 1.2 million acres. Those 1.2 million acres are serving as a critical forage resource for haying and grazing to our farmers and ranchers during this record drought. That means that before you head afield this fall, plan to scout or call ahead about your traditional stomping grounds before arriving, to check out or get an update on the cover.
Rachel Bush is State Coordinator for Pheasants Forever in North Dakota.