There was encouraging news for North Dakota pheasant hunters Monday, with the report from the state Game and Fish Department that total pheasant numbers are up 38% from last year.

The uptick is based on results from the Game and Fish Department's annual roadside surveys conducted in late July and August.

Despite the increase, total pheasants observed per 100 miles are 14% below the 10-year average, the Game and Fish Department said. Broods per 100 miles are up 30% from last year but 16% below the 10-year average. Average brood size is up 10% from 2019 but 5% below the 10-year average. The final summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 100 brood routes across North Dakota.

“We had good residual cover to start the year, and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing,” said RJ Gross, upland game biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. “There were some areas that experienced abnormally dry periods throughout the summer, but nesting appeared to be successful.”

RJ Gross, upland game biologist, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)
RJ Gross, upland game biologist, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

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By the numbers

The best pheasant numbers came from northwest North Dakota, where observers counted 12 broods and 91 pheasants per 100 miles, up from five broods and 39 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six.

In southwest North Dakota, traditionally the state's prime pheasant-producing area, observers tallied eight broods and 70 pheasants per 100 miles, up from six broods and 41 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six chicks.

Results from the southeast showed five broods and 41 pheasants per 100 miles, down from six broods and 51 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was five. Northeast North Dakota, generally considered secondary pheasant habitat with lower numbers compared with the rest of the state, saw three broods and 22 pheasants per 100 miles. That compared with three broods and 15 pheasants per 100 miles last year. Average brood size was six.

“While these numbers are encouraging, it’s important to remember that bird numbers in the last five years have been lower than what upland game hunters have been used to for many years, due to changing habitat conditions and the drought of 2017,” Gross said. “For context, these numbers put us about halfway back to where we were prior to the 2017 drought.

“Local populations are building back up, but they are not at the point yet of spreading out into new territories,” Gross added. “Hunters will need to find localized hotspots of pheasants.”

Grouse, partridges gain

Sharptail and Hungarian partridge numbers also are up. Game and Fish observers tallied a 54% increase in sharptails per 100 miles and a 45% increase in partridges observed per 100 miles.

Brood survey results show statewide increases in both the number of grouse and broods observed per 100 miles. Observers recorded two sharptail broods and 21 sharptails per 100 miles, the department said, with an average brood size of six.

Although partridge numbers have shown a slight increase, Gross said most 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 one partridge brood and 10 partridges per 100 miles, he said, with an average brood size of 10.

North Dakota's pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 10, and continues through Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Oct. 3-4.

Grouse and partridge seasons opened Saturday, Sept. 12, and continue through Sunday, Jan. 3.

Nearly 50,000 pheasant hunters went afield last fall in North Dakota, shooting 256,800 roosters, down 25% from 2018 when 59,400 hunters bagged 342,600 roosters. Hettinger, Divide, Bowman, Williams and McLean counties had the highest percentage of pheasants taken.

About 14,000 sharptail hunters bagged 34,300 grouse last fall, Game and Fish said, down 34% from 15,200 hunters and 51,800 birds in 2018. Counties with the highest percentage of sharptails taken were Mountrail, Burleigh, Ward, Stutsman and McKenzie.

Fewer hunters pursued Hungarian partridge in 2019 but they shot more birds. According to Game and Fish, 11,900 hunters shot 32,600 partridges last fall, up 5% from 2018, when nearly 12,500 bagged 31,200 birds. Mountrail, Ward, McLean, Williams and Divide counties had the highest percentage of partridges taken in 2019.

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