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Doug Leier, Published October 09 2012

Leier: Pheasant prospects in fall look promising

Fargo - In North Dakota, deer hunting is arguably the favorite hunting season based on the number of individuals who apply for a license each year. And while North Dakota produces more ducks than pheasants, I would guess if you asked every hunter their favorite quarry, ducks might finish behind deer and pheasants, though a lot of people are avid participants in all three seasons.

While deer and ducks are native species, sometimes I wonder why the exotic ring-necked pheasant continues to occupy a spot close to the top of hunting favorites.

For some, it’s an upland hunt in what for many is a favorite time of year – fall – with its crisp mornings, gorgeous prairie sounds and wide open landscapes. I can go pheasant hunting and not see a bird, and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

And if you’ve ever had pheasant grilled, stir-fried, deep-fried or roasted, odds are the taste of the bird’s light meat has created a desire for more.

Put these all together and you can see why people enjoy hunting pheasants.

Consider the latest statistics. Last fall more than 80,000 resident and nonresident hunters bagged about 680,000 roosters, or just over eight birds per hunter for the season.

The number of hunters last year was actually down a bit from 2010, but the mild fall and early winter led to pleasant late-season opportunities right up to the last weekend. So even though hunter numbers were down some, the nice weather meant many more hunting trips and that led to an increase in harvest.

Since the mild weather also continued through the winter, pheasant mortality was minimal. Favorable weather for pheasant nesting and brood reading followed in spring and summer, which warranted a positive outlook for this fall.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the late-summer brood survey indicated pheasants are up 59 percent statewide from last year. In addition, brood observations were up 65 percent, and the average brood size was up 16 percent.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate the number of birds observed was up 30 percent from 2011. “A stronger breeding population this spring coupled with good production should provide hunters with plenty of birds and a good number of young birds this fall,” Kohn said

Bird numbers in the southeast were up 134 percent from last year, and in the northwest, bird numbers were up 258 percent. However, Kohn said that hunters should temper expectations a bit because pheasant numbers in both districts were low last year. “There will be some areas where pheasant hunting will be slow,” Kohn said.

The increase in pheasant numbers from last year is encouraging, Kohn said, but hunters may notice some landscape changes this fall as Conservation Reserve Program contracts have expired, and emergency haying was allowed on some other CRP tracts because of drought conditions.

Those factors will reduce potential for pheasant population growth in future years, but hunters should find good opportunities for success in much of the state this fall.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com