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North Dakota pheasant outlook improved from last year – especially in the northwest – as season begins

Lack of residual cover likely hampered initial pheasant nesting success in May and early June. But as moisture and habitat conditions improved, birds responded.

Pheasants
Trio of rooster pheasants.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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BISMARCK – Widespread drought in 2021 hampered pheasant habitat and production in North Dakota, resulting in one of the lowest pheasant harvests in the past decade, but all signs point to a better outlook this year.

North Dakota’s 2022 pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 8.

Based on statistics compiled by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, 47,020 pheasant hunters went afield last fall, shooting 259,997 roosters. Only 2019, when about 50,000 North Dakota hunters bagged 256,800 roosters, saw lower harvest totals in recent times.

In a recent segment of the Game and Fish Department’s weekly “North Dakota Outdoors” video series, R.J. Gross, upland game biologist for Game and Fish, said lack of residual cover likely hampered initial pheasant nesting success in May and early June. But as moisture and habitat conditions improved, birds responded.

Statewide, pheasants per 100 miles were up 9% from last year, broods per mile were up 8% and the average brood size was up slightly at 6%, Gross said.

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Gross_RJ 2013.jpg
RJ Gross, upland game biologist, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department

“You know right away, it wasn’t the best for those early nesters,” Gross said. “The residual coverage just wasn’t there, so those early nest attempts were probably unsuccessful. But pheasants definitely responded later in the year with their second and third attempts.”

Hunters likely will encounter plenty of young roosters this year because of those late nesting efforts.

“Adults will be similar to last year, but there’ll definitely be more young birds in the bag,” Gross said in the video.

The brightest spot in this year’s pheasant brood survey, which the Game and Fish Department conducted in late July and August, is the northwest part of the state. Based on the survey, observers counted 11 broods and 96 pheasants per 100 miles in the northwest, up from eight broods and 68 pheasants in 2021; the average brood size was six.

“The northwest part of the state had big increases in everything – lots of production,” Gross said. “It seems the farther north you go, the better it was, but right around Lake Sakakawea, we had some good routes that we ran there.”

READ MORE HUNTING COVERAGE:
Area MnDNR Conservation Officer Weekly Reports - December 6, 2022

Numbers in the northwest were about twice what survey crews encountered in southwest North Dakota, traditionally the hotbed for pheasant hunting in the state during the heydays of the Conservation Reserve Program.

This year, the survey tallied five broods and 48 pheasants per 100 miles in the southwest, down from six broods and 59 pheasants in 2021; the average brood size was five chicks.

Brood counts in southeast North Dakota improved from last year, at five broods and 39 pheasants per 100 miles, up from three broods and 24 pheasants in 2021, with an average brood size of five.

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The survey in northeast North Dakota, which generally contains secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers than the rest of the state, tallied two broods and 18 pheasants per 100 miles, compared with three broods and 24 pheasants last year. Average brood size was seven – the highest in the state.

Youth pheasant hunts set

Finley pheasant hunt 2018.jpg
The Finley Wildlife Club's annual youth pheasant hunt is set for Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, on private lands in the Finley area. As part of the hunt, the club buys and releases pheasants on the land of cooperating landowners throughout the area. There's no charge to participate, but registration is required and gets underway before dawn in the Finley American Legion Hall, where participants will receive maps of release sites.
Contributed file photo

Clubs from two area communities are hosting youth pheasant hunts in the next couple of weeks, first in Finley, N.D., and then in Fordville, N.D.

The Finley Wildlife Club will hold its annual “Fun Day Pheasant Hunt” on Sunday, Oct. 16, on private lands near Finley.

As part of the hunt, which dates back to 2012, the Finley Wildlife Club purchases 400 to 500 pheasants and releases them around the area on property of willing landowners. The club supplies township maps showing the various release sites, and the hunt is open at no charge to hunters 18 and younger and adults who bring a youth hunter with them.

Registration begins before dawn at the Finley American Legion, 600 Lincoln Ave. S., and a creamed pheasant and wild rice lunch will be served beginning about noon in the Legion. The hunt is sponsored by Finley Motors and Heartland Chevy dealers, and hunters must follow all North Dakota hunting regulations and licensing requirements.

“The last two or three years have been a lot of fun, seeing a few kids get their first pheasant,” said Brian Tuite of the Finley Wildlife Club. “Makes it so worth it to me.”

Being the cook, Tuite says he might add that the meal is “top-notch,” and they’ve run out of creamed pheasant and wild rice the past couple of years.

Finley is about 65 miles southwest of Grand Forks in Steele County. Maps and more information will be available at registration.

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Then, on Saturday, Oct. 22, the Fordville-based Dakota Prairie Wildlife Club and Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club are teaming up to sponsor a youth pheasant hunt.

As part of the event, club members will release 300 roosters in the Fordville area. Maps showing the location of pheasant release sites will be available from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Fordville Ambulance Building, 204 Highway 12B N.

In addition, lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Ambulance Building.

Adults are welcome to hunt if they are accompanied by a youth hunter, and there is no charge to participate. Hunters must follow North Dakota Game and Fish Department hunting regulations.

Fordville is about 50 miles northwest of Grand Forks in Walsh County. More information will be available at the registration site.

N.D. fire danger update

Fire danger is low everywhere in North Dakota, good news going into the pheasant opener, based on the fire danger map posted on the North Dakota Response website. Despite the low danger rating, several counties, including all of northwest North Dakota and far western and southwestern counties, have burning bans or restrictions in place.

  • On the web:

ndresponse.gov.

PLOTS reminder for nonresidents

Plots.jpg
Land enrolled in the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's Private Land Open To Sportsmen program is clearly marked with triangular yellow signs. Nonresidents can't hunt PLOTS acreage or wildlife management area lands from Oct. 8 through Oct. 14, 2022, the first seven days of North Dakota's pheasant season.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

As per North Dakota state law, nonresidents can’t hunt Private Land Open to Sportsmen acreage and state wildlife management areas from Oct. 8 through Oct. 14, the first seven days of North Dakota’s pheasant season.

In addition, leaving equipment on PLOTS land overnight – such as tree stands, blinds, firearms, archery equipment or trail cameras – is not allowed without written permission from the landowner. Permission from the landowner also is required for motorized vehicle access on PLOTS land, such as for setting decoys in a field, unless specifically designated on the PLOTS sign.

North Dakota pheasant harvest 2006-21

Here’s a look at North Dakota pheasant harvest and hunter numbers since 2006:

  • 2006: 750,787 roosters, 99,849 hunters.
  • 2007: 907,434 roosters, 106,574 hunters.
  • 2008: 776,709 roosters, 107,984 hunters.
  • 2009: 651,700 roosters, 88,400 hunters.
  • 2010: 552,800 roosters, 91,900 hunters.
  • 2011: 683,000 roosters, 82,700 hunters.
  • 2012: 616,000 roosters, 85,487 hunters.
  • 2013: 447,000 roosters, 76,542 hunters.
  • 2014: 587,000 roosters, 84,584 hunters.
  • 2015: 590,000 roosters, 86,125 hunters.
  • 2016: 501,100 roosters, 76,600 hunters.
  • 2017: 309,400 roosters, 58,300 hunters.
  • 2018: 342,600 roosters, 59,400 hunters.
  • 2019: 256,800 roosters, nearly 50,000 hunters.
  • 2020: 330,668 roosters, 57,141 hunters.
  • 2021: 259,997 roosters, 47,020 hunters.
  • Harvest record: 2.45 million roosters in 1944 and 1945.

– Brad Dokken

Rules of the Hunt

  • Pheasant season dates: Oct. 8-Jan. 1, 2023.
  • Bag limits: 3 daily, 12 in possession.
  • Shooting hours: half hour before sunrise to sunset.
  • More info: gf.nd.gov.

– Herald staff report

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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