A topic that never fails to get the attention of North Dakota hunters is the status of ring-necked pheasants. After a series of difficult winters, coupled with the loss of thousands of Conservation Reserve Program acres and changes to the landscape brought about by energy development, pheasant numbers around the state took a severe hit.
Recently though, the decline was reversed slightly. A more favorable winter a year ago and cooperative weather during the nesting season led to a welcome rebound of pheasant numbers. The colorful birds have not been as plentiful in 2012 as they were a few years ago, but that was when pheasant populations were at a historical peak across much of the state. There are fewer pheasants today. However, hunters found enough encouragement in numbers in many areas to enjoy spending time in the field.
"The birds are doing OK yet," said Stan Kohn, North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game supervisor.
A rooster pheasant crosses a gravel roadway north of Minot. Recent winters have been tough on the pheasant population, but the colorful birds rebounded slightly in numbers in 2012.
The coldest, most blustery days of winter are still to come. A tough winter can be fatal for pheasants. The birds are not native to North Dakota, so surviving the winter can be grueling. The pheasants that do survive are counted on to bring off broods in early summer. Fortunately, the nesting season of 2012 proved to be reasonably successful.
"I've probably heard more positive comments about birds being there than negative comments," said Kohn. "It turned out to be a pretty positive season overall. People are still getting out and we've still got wings coming in."
While cold weather will keep some pheasant hunters at home, there are a number of pheasant hunters who enjoy hunting in the winter. They are eager to get in a final few days of hunting, no matter what the temperature. North Dakota's pheasant hunting season ends at sunset Jan. 6.