BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – Hunters killed more pheasants in North Dakota last fall than they did the previous year, although the numbers are tempered by the fact that drought and declining habitat continue to impact the odds of a successful outing.
Wildlife officials say that about 58,200 hunters killed 327,000 roosters in 2018. That was up just 6% from the dismal 2017 hunt, when the harvest was the smallest in 16 years at just 309,400 pheasants, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
Neither year approached the state Game and Fish Department’s benchmark for success, which is 500,000 pheasants. Recent numbers have also been lower than normal in South Dakota and Minnesota.
The problem is twofold, state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said. There is less grassland in the state due to farmers putting millions of acres of idled land once enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program back into crop production. In addition, drought has impacted many parts of the state the past couple of years.
“What abundant habitat gives you is the ability to rebound (from drought) quickly,” Williams said. “With less habitat, you’re going to see swings in the (pheasant) population. We’re going to be more dependent on what the weather conditions give us.”
The Game and Fish Department’s crowing count survey last spring indicated a 6% increase in roosters statewide from the 2018 count. The agency later this summer will conduct its annual pheasant population survey, which will provide a better indication of the bird’s status.
Either way, it’s likely time to lower the benchmark for a good pheasant hunting season in North Dakota, according to Williams.
“A harvest approaching 400,000, I think, would be a good year,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a perfect storm (of conditions) to have everything kind of come together to where we could get up and above that.”
The 2019 regular pheasant season begins Oct. 12. Pheasant hunting is big business in North Dakota, with the typical resident hunter spending about $100 per day, according to Tourism Division statistics.