N.D. Pheasant Preview

One of the most anticipated seasons on North Dakota's fall hunting calendar begins Saturday with the North Dakota pheasant opener. Hunters might have to do a bit more walking to find their birds this fall, but North Dakota's pheasant season still...

Number of pheasant hunters

One of the most anticipated seasons on North Dakota's fall hunting calendar begins Saturday with the North Dakota pheasant opener. Hunters might have to do a bit more walking to find their birds this fall, but North Dakota's pheasant season still will serve up its share of opportunities. Here's a look at hunting prospects for North Dakota and neighboring states.


North Dakota's 2009-10 pheasant season opens Saturday, and all signs point to fewer birds.

Results from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's roadside pheasant survey showed a 50 percent drop from last year in total pheasant numbers, with a 46 percent decline in brood abundance.

That's the lowest pheasant count in more than five years and suggests hunters this year will shoot about the same number of birds as 2002, when they bagged 500,000 roosters.


Still, hunters need to keep the survey results in perspective.

"I haven't seen quite as many pheasants, either," said Jesse Beckers, North Dakota Pheasants Forever biologist. "We're down this year compared to last year, but that's still more than most states have.

"There's still so many birds out there, I'm not worried at all. I think we're going to have a great season."

That's especially true in areas with the best habitat and traditionally high pheasant populations such as the southwestern part of the state. Fringe areas such as southeastern North Dakota, which has provided quality hunting opportunities the past several years, likely will be tougher this fall, Beckers said.

"I'm hearing that part of the state was hit hardest" by last winter's severe weather and the cool, wet summer, Beckers said.

The Game and Fish Department survey in southeastern North Dakota tallied 56 birds and 6.7 broods per 100 miles, a decline of about 60 percent from last year. That compares with 15 broods and 113 birds per 100 miles in the southwest -- a 40 percent decline -- and 6.4 birds and 48 birds per 100 miles in the northwestern part of North Dakota.

Average brood sizes also were down slightly, ranging from 4.96 chicks per brood in the southeast to 6.4 chicks per brood in the northwest. The average brood size in southwestern North Dakota was 5.05.

It's all about the habitat


The loss of land in the Conservation Reserve Program continues to concern not only Pheasants Forever, but other conservation groups.

"We're projected to lose hundreds of thousands of acres in the next few years, and that will have more of an effect than a bad winter," Beckers, the North Dakota Pheasants Forever biologist, said. "There's no doubt bad winters affect wildlife populations, but you have to have that nesting cover out there so they can recover."

Beckers said North Dakota has about 2.6 million acres enrolled in CRP, down from a peak of 3.3 million. The state has lost 570,000 acres since 2005, and another 236,000 acres were set to expire in September. Nearly 1.7 million acres of CRP will expire by 2012, Pheasants Forever says.

"We still have habitat and we still have acres, but we're losing it so fast that it's a concern right now," Beckers said.

Play it safe

With about 100,000 pheasant hunters taking the field this fall, the Game and Fish Department is urging people to make safety a priority.

North Dakota had 10 hunting incidents in 2008, and six were shotgun related.

Unlike Minnesota, upland game hunters aren't required to wear orange clothing in North Dakota -- but it is strongly recommended.


"The majority of shotgun-related hunting incidents reported in North Dakota each year are caused by hunters swinging on pheasants and not seeing other members of their hunting party," said Jon Hanson, hunter education coordinator for the state Game and Fish Department. "And typically, they are not dressed in orange.

"Each year, most incidents could have been avoided if the victims were wearing orange," Hanson said said. "The importance of being visible cannot be underscored, especially with so many hunters in the field."

Hanson suggests mapping out the hunt so all members of the hunting party know each other's route.

Accidental discharge of a firearm in or near vehicles or along fences also happens in most years. "This is a matter of common sense," Hanson said. "A shotgun should always be unloaded in these situations."

Public land reminder

North Dakota state law does not allow nonresidents to hunt on Game and Fish Department owned or managed lands during the first week of the pheasant season.

Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) acreage and state wildlife management areas are open to hunting by resident hunters only from Oct. 10-16. Nonresidents still can hunt those days on other state-owned and federal lands or private land.

The law applies to all small game, waterfowl, furbearer and big game hunting on PLOTS and state wildlife management areas.


Starting Oct. 17, nonresidents can hunt on PLOTS and WMAs as long as the appropriate season is open.

Rules of the hunt

Season dates: Oct. 10-Jan. 3.

Limits: Three daily, 12 in possession.

Hunting hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

For more information: Refer to the 2009-10 North Dakota Small Game Guide, available wherever licenses are sold or on the Web at

Other states

Here's a look at pheasant outlooks in neighboring states from Pheasants Forever's "2009 Pheasant Hunting Forecast":


Minnesota: Not grim by any means, pheasant season in Minnesota still is expected to be tougher this year -- especially compared with recent years, when hunters have bagged more than 500,000 roosters. The statewide pheasant index was down 27 percent from 2008. Southwestern Minnesota is expected to provide the best opportunities, based on the annual August roadside survey, which tallied 116 birds per 100 miles. Season opens Saturday and continues through Jan. 3. Limits are three daily, six in possession through Nov. 30; three daily, nine in possession after Dec. 1.

South Dakota: South Dakota will retain the title of "Pheasant Capital" this fall. South Dakota last year drew 176,000 hunters who took more than 1.9 million birds. This year's brood survey was the fourth-highest in the past 45 years but down 26 percent from 2008. Top spots again will be around the Chamberlin, Winner, Pierre, Mobridge, Aberdeen, Huron and Mitchell, S.D. areas. Meanwhile, the West River area (west of the Missouri River) showed a 96 percent increase in the number of birds per mile, from 1.96 in 2008 to 3.84 this year. The resident-only season on public land begins Saturday and continues through Oct. 12; the regular season begins Oct. 17 and continues through Jan. 3. Limits are three daily, 15 in possession.

Montana: Hunters will have a difficult time reaching last year's harvest of 127,000 roosters. A severe winter in northeastern Montana and summer drought from the Rocky Mountains to North Dakota affected survival. Crowing counts were down in the northeast and north-central parts of the state. Season opens Saturday and continues through Jan. 1. Limits are three daily, nine in possession.

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, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
What To Read Next
Get Local