More hunters went afield last fall in North Dakota, and they shot more pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridges than in 2019, the Game and Fish Department said this week in reporting results from hunter harvest surveys.
The overall harvest likely was driven by increased production of upland birds and favorable weather conditions for hunters, said R.J. Gross, upland game biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck.
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“The increases are largely due to a larger pheasant breeding population and an increase in production of upland game bird chicks across most of the state that we observed during our 2020 spring crowing and late summer roadside counts,” Gross said.
Also, outdoor activity in general was up in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking back, Gross said the 2020 spring pheasant crowing counts showed a 15% increase in the breeding population, and roadside counts showed 10% more birds per mile and 17% more broods per mile compared with 2019.
“Combine that with favorable weather conditions late into the hunting season and more hunters on the landscape, you end up with more birds in the bag,” he said.
Last year, 57,141 pheasant hunters (up 14%) shot 330,668 roosters (up 28%), compared with 50,000 hunters and 256,800 roosters in 2019, Game and Fish Department statistics show.
Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken were Hettinger, Divide, Bowman, Williams and Morton.
Even more striking was the increase in sharptail hunters and harvest, with 19,971 grouse hunters bagging 86,965 sharptails, increases of 43% and 153%, respectively, compared with 2019, when 14,000 hunters went afield for sharptails and shot 34,300 birds
Counties with the highest percentage of sharptails taken were Mountrail, Burleigh, Sheridan, Stutsman and Morton.
Last year, 16,795 hunters (up 41%) harvested 52,251 Hungarian partridges (up 60%). In 2019, nearly 11,900 hunters harvested 32,600 Huns.
Counties with the highest percentage of Hungarian partridge taken were Mountrail, Morton, McLean, Williams and Divide.
Whether the fall hunting season can match last year's success remains to be seen, but spring pheasant counts were up 3% statewide from 2020, the Game and Fish Department reported in June, based on results from spring crowing count surveys. Pheasant counts declined to 18.4 crows per stop in southwest North Dakota, down from 19.6 in 2020, but the survey tallied 14.3 crows per stop in the northwest, up from 12.2 in 2020, and 14.5 in southeast North Dakota, up from 13.6 last year.
The department will have a better handle on fall grouse, partridge and pheasant hunting prospects when it releases results from annual roadside brood count surveys later this summer.
This year’s grouse and partridge season opens Saturday, Sept. 11, and continues through Sunday, Jan. 2. The regular pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 9, and continues through Sunday, Jan. 2.