Drought has big impact on North Dakota pheasant population
BISMARCK, N.D. — A spring survey indicates North Dakota’s pheasant population is down dramatically from a year ago due to drought, more bad news for hunters after a dismal 2017 fall hunt.
The spring pheasant crowing count survey showed a 30 percent decline statewide from last year, according to the state Game and Fish Department. It was the largest percentage drop in three decades.
The drop in prime pheasant regions ranged from 15 percent to 38 percent, according to R.J Gross, upland game management biologist.
“We entered spring with a lower-than-average number of adult birds,” he said. “Last year’s production was far below average due to the statewide drought conditions.”
Much of western North Dakota was mired in severe, extreme and even exceptional drought last summer. That reduced food and habitat for pheasants, resulting in a population loss of about 60 percent from 2016 – the lowest level in two decades.
Last year’s hunting season was one of the most dismal this century, with the number of hunters declining 24 percent and the total harvest of 309,000 birds not approaching the Game and Fish benchmark for a good season of 500,000 birds. It was a drop of 38 percent from the previous year, and the smallest pheasant harvest since 2001.
However, Gross said bird survival during the relatively mild winter that followed was good, and hens should be in good physical shape for nesting season. Rainfall also has been more plentiful so far this year.
“The climate conditions compared to what we had (in 2017) are drastically different,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said. “We have much better conditions associated with upland game reproduction.”
Game and Fish will conduct pheasant brood surveys next month, giving hunters a better idea of what to expect for the fall hunt that’s set to begin in early October.
“If the (weather) trend continues, a good hatch should be expected,” Gross said. “But it will take a few years of good reproduction to get the population back to where it was before the drought.”