Survey shows ND flush with pheasantsNear-ideal conditions for ring-neck pheasants in North Dakota means more birds than last year — though the healthy habitat will be a bigger challenge for hunters, a state Game and Fish Department official says.
By: James MacPherson, Associated Press
BISMARCK — Near-ideal conditions for ring-neck pheasants in North Dakota means more birds than last year — though the healthy habitat will be a bigger challenge for hunters, a state Game and Fish Department official says.
“There is some really nice cover out there, but it means guys are going to have to work a little harder and good dogs are going to be real handy this year,” said Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the agency.
North Dakota’s pheasant population is up an estimated 34 percent from last year, one of the more dismal years in a decade. The estimate, released Monday, is based on roadside brood counts in late July and August.
The survey counted 11.3 broods per 100 miles, up from nine last year, Kohn said. The number of pheasants per 100 miles was 92, up from 69 last year, he said.
The season opens Oct. 9 and runs through Jan. 2, 2011. State officials say the opening of pheasant season likely brings in more visitors to North Dakota than any other event during a one-or two-week period.
North Dakota has had robust pheasant populations for most of the past decade, but a pair of harsh winters followed by wet springs have hurt numbers. And fewer pheasants means fewer hunters afield.
Hunters killed 651,778 roosters last year, down from 778,000 in 2008 and the more than 900,000 birds bagged in 2007, Kohn said. The number of hunters dropped from about 108,000 to 88,400 during that time, he said.
Wildfire officials counted 204 pheasants and 24 broods per 100 miles in 2007, the highest level in more than 60 years. While far behind those numbers, this year’s population is more than double the 38 birds counted per 100 miles in 1980.
Bird counters slowly drive selected routes across the state watching for adult pheasants and their young drawn to roads to eat grit that helps the birds’ digestion.
Kohn said this year’s count is likely conservative because many birds may have been camouflaged by better-than-normal vegetation along roadsides and beyond.
“There was restricted visibility — chances are things might be better than we suggest,” Kohn said. “There is some really nice cover out there and I’m sure there are more birds out there but they’re hard to see.”
Lush cover and better weather this spring and summer likely increased nesting success and chick survival, which means more birds for hunters to bag this fall, he said.
Professional bird dog trainer Tom Ness, owner of Oahe Kennels in Menoken, said he’s out in the field daily in central North Dakota and has noticed a good number of pheasants.
That’s surprising, he said, due to heavy spring rains that he believed would hurt nesting and hatching.
“I was pretty convinced they had a poor hatch,” Ness said. “There is so much cover out there, a guy isn’t seeing them. But in seven miles I saw seven broods, which is good.”
Ring-neck pheasants in North Dakota are resilient despite the state’s brutal weather, he said.
“We’ve had two pretty tough winters in a row,” Ness said. “But pheasants are pretty prolific — they do well here.”