BISMARCK-North Dakota pheasant hunters will have to work to put birds in the bag again this fall with overall bird numbers similar to last year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said Thursday, Sept. 6, in reporting results from annual roadside surveys conducted in late July and August.
According to R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck, this year's survey tallied a 2 percent decline from last year in total pheasants observed per 100 miles.
The number of broods per 100 miles was unchanged, while the average brood size was up 27 percent.
Hungarian partridge numbers also are up from last year, while sharp-tailed grouse numbers declined, survey results show. The final summary is based on 278 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across North Dakota.
"Even though survey data suggests pheasant production was certainly better than last year, hunters will still notice the lack of production from 2017 in the overall population," Gross said.
Severe drought throughout much of the state's pheasant range hampered production in 2017, resulting in a lower breeding population going into this past spring. Roadside pheasant counts last year were down 60 percent from 2016, the Game and Fish Department said.
This year's roadside counts by region were as follows:
• Southwestern North Dakota: Total pheasants were down 32 percent, and broods observed were down 29 percent from 2017. For every 100 survey miles, observers counted an average of six broods and 45 pheasants. The average brood size was 5.2 chicks. Despite the population decline, Gross said the southwest still holds the most pheasants in the state.
• Southeast: Birds are up 63 percent from last year, and the number of broods is up 77 percent. Observers counted five broods and 40 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.8.
• Northwest: Pheasants are up 9 percent from last year, with broods up 4 percent. Observers recorded three broods and 26 pheasants per 100 miles, and the average brood size was 6.5.
• Northeast: This part of the state generally contains secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers than the rest of the state. Observers this year counted two broods and 19 pheasants per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.8.
Although some areas, such as southeast North Dakota, show a large increase in percentages from last year, Gross said it's important to keep in mind the results are based off a low population in those areas in 2017.
Still, hunters who are willing to be mobile and put in the effort should find some good pheasant hunting opportunities, the department predicts.
Hun, sharptail numbers
The survey also tallied a 49 percent decline in sharptails observed per 100 miles compared with last year, while Hungarian partridge are up 7 percent.
"Hunting will be slower than last season in most of the state, and all indications are that hunters will see significantly lower numbers of grouse statewide," Gross said. "There will be localized areas of good hunting opportunities, but in general, hunting will be fair at best."
Despite increases in sharptail lek counts this spring for eastern North Dakota, brood survey results show statewide declines in number of grouse and broods observed per 100 miles, and a slight decline in average brood size. Observers recorded 0.8 sharptail broods and 6.8 sharptails per 100 miles. Average brood size was 4.55.
Although partridge numbers are up slightly, Gross said the majority of the partridge harvest is incidental while hunters pursue grouse or pheasants. Partridge densities in general, he said, are too low to target. Observers recorded 0.4 partridge broods and 4.4 partridge per 100 miles. Average brood size was 7.03.
The 2018 grouse and partridge seasons open Saturday, Sept. 8, and continue through Jan. 6, 2019.
The 2018 regular pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 6, and continues through Jan. 6, 2019. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Saturday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Sept. 30.