BISMARCK North Dakota's upland game hunting season is scheduled for a Sept. 10 opener.
What isn't yet known is how many birds hunters can expect to find on the landscape.
Population estimates will be made following the completion of annual brood surveys conducted by the N.D. Game and Fish Department.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - The fall hunting seasons are fast approaching. The upland game season is scheduled to open Sept. 10. Surveys are currently under way to help determine hatching success for pheasants, grouse and partridge.
"We're just getting started with those," said Stan Kohn, Game and Fish upland game biologist, this past week. "We have some crowing count numbers for the pheasants but probably won't have any numbers on grouse and partridge until mid-August at the earliest. By then we'd probably have enough information to see if a pattern is developing."
Early morning brood surveys conducted by Game and Fish don't reveal everything, but they are considered a reasonably reliable indicator of hatching success and survival. Some years vegetation is so high that sighting broods of young birds is difficult. This is one of those years in much of the state.
"The cover is just about as good as I've ever seen it. Some of the clover is four to five feet high," Kohn said. "Young birds that made it through the first couple of weeks, well, it should be pretty good for them. We have seen a few pheasant broods but it is far too early to make a call yet."
Pheasant numbers throughout the state have been on the decline for three years running. Kohn said it's not likely the number will climb this year, unless there is a surprise in the amount of young birds that reach flight stage. Working against young chicks was the fact that much of the state was very wet during the traditional peak of the hatch.
"That's a key factor," Kohn said. "With rain you get cold temperatures too. It was wet pretty consistent through June. My gut feeling is I'd rather have it dry than wet, no matter what the temperature. A good thing is we didn't really have any major swaths of hail that lasted for any length of time. Hail can be really tough on young birds."
Hungarian partridge are known to struggle during wet weather. Sharp-tailed grouse might also have been affected. Kohn said he wouldn't be at all surprised if counts for both species were down when the final numbers are tallied.
"It's a little early yet to say," Kohn said. "The numbers in the fall is all about what's produced during the spring."
Seasons for prairie chickens and sage grouse will again be closed this fall. The limited prairie chicken season closed last year due to declining numbers on two huntable areas in eastern North Dakota. Game and Fish may have to look at a re-stocking effort to maintain the prairie chickens.
North Dakota's sage grouse season closed three years ago because of low numbers. To date the birds are struggling to survive. However, unlike the state's prairie chickens, they have fairly good connectivity to sage grouse populations in nearby Montana and Wyoming, leaving some hope for future population growth. Sage grouse are found in extreme southwest North Dakota, which is on the outer edge of the bird's historic range.