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Pheasant numbers increase across N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota's spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the state Game and Fish Department's 2014 spring crowing count survey.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2-9 percent depending on the region.

Kohn said the increase in the numbers statewide surprised him a bit.

He said last fall, there were not a lot of juvenile roosters taken during the fall season, usually an indication of a poor production year.

But going into a relatively mild winter, Kohn said, with the exception of the extreme southwestern part of the state soil moisture was ample across most of North Dakota.

That led to good residual cover for pheasants going into this year's nesting season which, unlike last year's wet and cold spring, was closer to normal in terms of timing.

This spring was cool as well, but recent rains could turn out to be more problematic than a year ago.

Kohn said the one factor not known is how the heavy rains — 4-6 inches in some areas — may have affected newly-hatched birds.

He said a lot of chicks were in the neighborhood of 7-10 days old when the rains hit.

Last year's cold spring delayed normal nesting times, but this spring, Kohn said, while it's cooler than normal, the hen pheasants seemed to be more active than a year ago.

Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a better indication of production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.

Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern third of the state, helped boost this year's spring count.

With the loss of more than 2 million acres of CRP grasslands, much of it in the pheasant range, pheasant numbers have been declining since 2008 when they peaked, Kohn said.

Between 2011-12, the number of pheasant hunters increased 4 percent but harvest declined by 10 percent.

In 2007, when bird numbers were high, the number of pheasant hunters in North Dakota topped 100,000 for the first time.

In 2012, the last year for which data is available, nearly 86,000 hunters bagged 616,000 roosters. In 2007, more than 107,000 hunters took nearly 908,000 roosters.

While the index this year is good sign, the 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak.

"Loss of CRP acres continue to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape," Kohn emphasized. "This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future."

Pheasant crowing counts, conducted each spring, travel specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals to count the number of roosters heard crowing in a two-minute period during the stop.

Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or brian.gehring@bismarcktribune.com.

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