Pheasant numbers are up in North Dakota as a whole, but the state’s prime pheasant territory -- the southwest -- isn’t rebounding from drought two years ago as quickly as other regions.
A summer survey indicated North Dakota's pheasant population is up 10% from last year, the state Game and Fish Department reported this week.
“This was the first year in a while that we’ve had good residual cover to start the year, and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing,” Game and Fish upland game biologist RJ Gross said.
However, the overall state increase was boosted by big jumps in pheasant numbers in the northwest and southeast.
In the southwest, the survey indicated a 7% percent drop in the pheasant population from last year, though broods were up 2%.
The region was devastated by drought in 2017, and it also has seen a lot of grassland once idled under the federal Conservation Reserve Program returned to crop production in recent years, according to state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams. Grassland is prime pheasant habitat.
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“The ability (of pheasants) to rebound in some of those areas is impacted, no doubt,” Williams said.
Last year’s statewide pheasant harvest totaled about 320,000 birds. The Game and Fish Department’s benchmark for a good hunting season has been 500,000 birds, though such benchmarks for several species are being rethought due to the decline of wildlife habitat in the state.
“I think we’re a little ways away from getting to that 500,000 benchmark” during the upcoming season, Williams said.
Pheasant hunting is big business in North Dakota, attracting hundreds of thousands of hunters who spend an estimated $60 million in an average year, according to state Tourism Division data.
The regular pheasant season opens Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5, 2020. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when licensed residents and nonresidents age 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is Oct. 5-6.