With the oversaturation of 2020 year-in-review columns and news, I elected to wait a month before the annual over-the-shoulder look at North Dakota outdoors from the past year. The message wasn’t going to change, so no need to rush.

Here’s a brief review.

Record lakes stocked

Game and Fish Department fisheries personnel stocked a record 180 lakes across North Dakota with nearly 12 million walleye fingerlings.

The number of lakes stocked in 2020 bested the previous high by nearly 30 waters.

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One of the biggest challenges in 2020 was access to some lakes. As a result of record rains in fall 2019, a lot of local roads in central and eastern North Dakota were flooded and often closed, making navigating some roads more challenging.

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Upland birds and waterfowl

North Dakota’s roadside surveys indicated pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge numbers were up compared with 2019.

The survey showed total pheasants observed per 100 miles were up 38% from last year, but 14% below the 10-year average. Broods per 100 miles were up 30% from last year and 16% below the 10-year average. Average brood size was up 10% from 2019 and 5% below the 10-year average.

While the numbers were encouraging, it was noted that bird numbers in the last five years have been lower than what upland game hunters have been used to for many years because of changing habitat conditions and the drought of 2017.

The survey indicated that sharptails observed were up 54% statewide, and partridges were up 45%.

Much improved wetland conditions, along with increased numbers of waterfowl responding to those conditions, were found during the Game and Fish Department’s 73rd breeding duck survey. Much of the state had good to excellent conditions for breeding ducks in spring, and breeding habitats were generally up during the breeding season.

Game and Fish Department biologists expected the fall duck flight from North Dakota to be up 9% from 2019, based on observations from its annual mid-July duck production survey.

Electronic posting study

Hunters in Ramsey, Richland and Slope counties were encouraged to use the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s online map resources last fall to evaluate electronic posting, a pilot study that was authorized by the 2019 state Legislature.

Private land that was posted electronically for the 2020-21 hunting season was viewable on a computer or smartphone or could be printed from the department’s website.

A benefit of electronic posting is the ability for hunters to determine a point of contact for the landowner, or authorized person who posted the land. Point of contact was included on the department’s map service application.

A total of 79 landowners in the three counties participated in the pilot study by electronically posting their land, totaling 268 parcels and 38,600 acres.

Additional bighorn license

The Game and Fish Department allocated six bighorn sheep licenses for the 2020 hunting season, one more than 2019.

The objective of the 2020 hunting season was to maximize hunter opportunity in the northern Badlands, where ram numbers remained strong, while continuing to reduce the number of rams in the southern Badlands to lessen the risk of transmitting disease to the northern population. The concern, as in past years, is the ongoing effects of the bacterial pneumonia outbreak that was first detected in 2014 and resulted in a loss of 15% to 20% of the adult population.

Moose and elk

While hunters were afforded more elk hunting opportunities in 2020, once-in-a-lifetime licenses for moose decreased slightly.

After several years of increasing and record-setting moose licenses, Game and Fish issued 474 licenses in 2020, down from 479 in 2019.

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North Dakota’s 2020 elk season featured 523 licenses, an increase of 45 licenses from 2019 and the highest number of elk licenses issued since 2010.

Check out the January issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS online for a more thorough review.

Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

Doug Leier
Doug Leier