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Dwindling population: ND Game and Fish Department says pheasant numbers are down 30 percent

North Dakota Game and Fish Courtesy Photo Pheasant numbers in North Dakota declined after another tough winter and continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program land.

With decreasing Conservation Reserve Program plots and harsh winters, North Dakota hunters are going to have to get used to another tough pheasant season.

Though the North Dakota Game and Fish Department expects hunters to collect more than 500,000 birds this season, the total number of pheasants is down from 2012, according to the roadside survey.

Stan Kohn, Game and Fish's upland game supervisor, said the roadside pheasant survey showed a 30 percent decrease from last year.

"Our numbers are down about a third from what hunters saw last year," Kohn said. "They are still pretty decent numbers overall. We are starting to see a shift in our pheasant numbers on a downward trend."

Jeb Williams, Game and Fish's wildlife assistant chief, said the number of acres in CRP and weather are the two weighing factors in the number of pheasants on the landscape.

"In certain parts of the state, we are seeing habitat changes that aren't necessarily beneficial to pheasants," Williams said. "It's not necessarily a surprise. Once you lose CRP acres, you lose that good habitat that raises and rears pheasants."

As the number of pheasants has decreased, hunters are going to have to spend more time in the field finding birds.

Kohn said young hunters across the state are going to have a new experience as the number of CRP acres continues to dwindle.

"It has really taken away a great amount of nesting area for our birds," Kohn said. "There are still going to be pockets of really good birds around. It's just going to be distributed a little more wildly than what folks are used to. The folks who are going to notice it the most are these younger people who have been recruited into the hunting community. All they've really known in the last 15 years are really good pheasant numbers."

In southwest North Dakota, the number of birds observed was down 25 percent from 2012, and the number of broods was down 22 percent. Observers counted 15 broods and 126 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 5.8.

Game and Fish has stated that despite a decrease in pheasant numbers, there remain plenty of opportunities in southwest North Dakota. However, Williams is worried about hunters across the state flooding to southwest North Dakota with hopes of finding a large amount of pheasants.

"For areas in the southwest, hunting is going to be good," Williams said. "There are going to be opportunities. One of things that is concerning for folks is that, are all people going to flock to the southwest part of the state and create a bit of traffic jam in that area. There's no doubt, in southwest part of the state there remains good pockets of pheasants. But that opportunity certainly isn't spread out across the state like it has been in previous years."

The southeast part of the state's birds counts are down 43 percent from last year, and the number of broods are down 42 percent. The northwest indicated pheasants are down 39 percent from last year, with broods down 32 percent. The northeast was down 35 percent, and the number of broods recorded was down 33 percent.

"We had a long, snowy winter and probably increased adult mortality on birds," Kohn said. "We had hoped when that cold, wet weather moved in, the nesting season looked like it backed off a little bit. We were hoping that nesting peak would happen after that rainy spell ended. As we kind of look at these numbers, we see that it must have hit some of our nest birds. It just did bring a lot of young birds in the population this fall."