Pheasant numbers down

BISMARCK (AP) — Severe drought in North Dakota in 2017 continues to impact pheasant numbers, with this year’s summer population survey providing little good news for hunters.

Pheasant production last year was at its lowest level in two decades, dramatically reducing the number of adult birds nesting earlier this year. While the dry conditions eased this summer and pheasant brood sizes were up from 2017, the estimated population still dropped 2 percent from last year.

“Even though survey data suggests pheasant production was certainly better than last year, hunters will still notice the lack of production from 2017 in the overall population,” said R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist with the state Game and Fish Department.

The pheasant population is up in southeast and northwest North Dakota, but in the southwest which is the state’s prime pheasant-hunting territory, pheasant numbers are down 32 percent from last year. That region was hit especially hard by the 2017 drought.

Game and Fish expects the statewide hunter harvest to be about the same as last year, when it totaled only 309,000 birds and was the smallest in 16 years. The agency’s benchmark for a good hunting season is 500,000 birds killed.

“Everything is lining up to be similar to last year,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said. “Hunters are going to have to work for their birds. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, but they’re going to have to work hard for them.”

The regular pheasant season opens Oct. 6 and continues through Jan. 6, 2019. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when licensed residents and nonresidents age 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is Sept. 29-30.

Pheasant hunting is big business in North Dakota, attracting hundreds of thousands of hunters who spend an estimated $60 million in an average year, according to state Tourism Division data.

Sharptail grouse, another popular game bird, are down 49 percent statewide this year.

“There will be localized areas of good hunting opportunities, but in general hunting will be fair at best,” Gross said.

The grouse season got underway Saturday and continues through Jan. 6.

Patridge numbers are up 7 percent, but the bird isn’t a big draw for hunters on its own. Most partridge are killed by hunters while they pursue pheasants or grouse, according to Game and Fish.

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