One of the unofficial duties of the state Game and Fish Department's wildlife division chief is to set the stage for the fall seasons ahead in the annual hunting preview in North Dakota Outdoors magazine. That task currently falls to Jeb Williams, a Beach, N.D., native and a graduate of Dickinson State University. He's spent more than 20 years working in different roles with the department and took over as wildlife chief during the summer of 2014.
September may seem like a month to focus on early upland game seasons such as grouse and partridge, but we actually have three weekends in a row with waterfowl openers of one type or another lining up in the near future. North Dakota's youth waterfowl weekend is Sept. 14-15, the resident waterfowl opener is Saturday, Sept. 22, followed by the nonresident or regular waterfowl season starting Sept. 29.
The North Dakota Legislature established the general game license in 1967, and ever since then, deer hunters have needed one, in addition to a deer tag, before they could legally hunt deer with rifle or bow. Eventually, the general game license was combined with the habitat stamp, so today it's called the General Game and Habitat License, and you need one to hunt any game species, except furbearers, in North Dakota unless you are a landowner hunting only on your own land.
Whether it's early September archery deer hunting, dove hunting or late-season pheasant hunting, North Dakota's 220,000 acres of state wildlife management areas are open to all hunters, and there is no preference or priority given. And yet, the state Game and Fish Department has a number of rules and regulations in place to balance and reduce potential conflicts, which can and do occur when areas attract crowds or people try to pre-empt space.
Whether it’s early September archery deer hunting, dove hunting or late-season pheasant hunting, North Dakota’s 220,000 acres of state wildlife management areas are open to all hunters, and there is no preference or priority given. And yet, the state Game and Fish Department has a number of rules and regulations in place to balance and reduce potential conflicts, which can and do occur when areas attract crowds or people try to pre-empt space.
As a kid growing up in North Dakota a few decades ago, I don't really even recall the concept of catch-and-release fishing, let alone the intentional practice. "Eaters" were kept because that's why we were fishing. Today, many anglers still fish because they enjoy eating fish, but catch-and-release, especially of larger fish of just about any species, is common practice. This transition has surprised me a little bit. Most anglers will keep a few fish for eating and maybe save a fish-of-a-lifetime to send to the taxidermist.
The early Canada goose season began in 1999 in North Dakota, and there's no need for a history lesson beyond the point that the season was then—and remains today—an effort to help increase harvest on giant Canada geese that nest in the state. During the course of nearly 20 years, biologists and wildlife managers have tweaked the season to provide more opportunities for hunter success.
I took a call from an angler the other day asking about a place to take his grandkids fishing. Nothing unusual about the call or my response. Sipping coffee early in the morning and talking about fishing is about as close to enjoying fishing without wetting a line as it gets.
Given the fall hunter harvest of pheasants in 2017 was down 24 percent from the previous year, there really was no reason to expect this spring's numbers wouldn't be down in similar fashion. And they were, down 30 percent from last year. R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was down statewide, with decreases ranging from 15 percent to 38 percent in the primary regions holding pheasants.
A year ago, North Dakota was experiencing a lack of precipitation that created dire conditions for rangeland, grasslands, cattle, crops and wildlife. What we didn't know for sure was the direct influence this drought would have on pheasant numbers for the fall hunt, as earlier 2017 spring crowing counts provided some optimism. While unseasonably wet, cool weather is not ideal for growing young pheasant chicks, extended hot, dry weather isn't good either.