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Bryan Horwath, The Dickinson Press , Published October 07 2012

ND pheasant hunters anticipate good season

DICKINSON, N.D. – With the opening of the 2012 North Dakota pheasant season a week away, hunters are gearing up for one of the state’s favorite pastimes.

The consensus from the experts is that there will be plenty of birds out there, which should thrill hunters. The bad news is that big chunks of Conservation Reserve Program land will no longer be available for the pheasant hunt, which runs from Oct. 13 through Jan. 6.

That didn’t seem to put a damper on hunter Dan Dusdal’s spirits, however, as he loaded up on ammunition at the Dickinson Walmart recently.

“I work on a surveying crew in the Oil Patch and we’ve been seeing a lot of pheasants,” Dusdal said. “There are a lot of birds out there. Guys are making mental notes when we’re out there. We have some ideas of where to go. It’s going to be fun.”

A hunter of other game before he moved to North Dakota from Colorado two years ago, Dusdal said he picked up the sport of pheasant hunting and enjoys it.

Sales manager Jeremy Remily said Scheels Sporting Goods in Bismarck has seen the usual uptick in business in the hunting department as the pheasant season approaches.

“People are getting excited to get out there and chase some roosters around,” Remily said. “We had a really good hatch this year, partly because of the mild winter last year. From what we’re hearing, it should be a great year for pheasants.”

While there should be plenty of birds to hunt this year, conservationists are worried about the loss of CRP land as landowner contracts with the federal government expire. CRP, administered by the Farm Service Agency, is a voluntary program in which farmers and ranchers enter into 10- to 15-year contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to apply vegetation cover best suited for wildlife.

Although landowners receive payments in exchange, many have been finding that they can make more money growing small grain and row crops with market commodity prices continuing to edge up.

“We are going to lose a lot of habitat,” said Jesse Beckers, with Pheasants Forever. “We’re set to lose over 800,000 acres of CRP land in North Dakota this year alone. Landowners are largely putting those lands back into agriculture, and that’s not a good thing for game or for hunters.”

In Stark County alone, about 13,500 acres are set to come off the CRP books, and in Dunn County, 2,500 acres are set to expire, said Jay Hochhalter, a program specialist with the FSA in Fargo.

“We have 833,000 acres of land out of a total of just under 2.4 million acres that is set to expire,” Hochhalter said. “That’s a big number, especially when you take into effect the fact that North Dakota had 3.3 million acres of CRP lands as recently as 2007. That’s a big drop. We know wheat prices are up and sunflowers are high, so landowners are going where the money is.”

With the new federal farm bill up in the air and commodity prices showing no signs of receding any time soon, things don’t look promising for future years. This year, however, shouldn’t be a problem for pheasant hunters, Beckers said.