2016 North Dakota Hunting Outlook
From N.D. Game and Fish Department
A relatively mild winter over much of North Dakota will mean similar or improved hunting prospects, compared to 2015, for upland bird and deer hunters this fall, while waterfowl hunters can expect another good season as well.
As we’ve featured the past several years, here’s a status review for some of the state’s popular game species, provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. This outlook is a condensed version of an article that originally appeared in the August-September 2016 issue of the N.D. Game and Fish magazine, North Dakota OUTDOORS.
North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index was up about 2 percent statewide from last year. Numbers in the southeast were down from last year, while the other regions from west to central were up slightly.
The 2015 pheasant harvest topped the 600,000 mark, and with decent production this summer, hunters can anticipate similar success this year.
Wild turkey numbers in the state are generally holding steady. Game and Fish issued nearly 6,000 spring turkey licenses in 2016, the same as last year, and fall season licenses numbers are about the same as well.
Sharp-tailed grouse counts on spring dancing grounds were down about 6 percent statewide from last year, something Game and Fish biologists anticipated because of dry weather last summer that hurt production.
Ducks and geese
While North Dakota had more dry wetlands on the landscape this spring than last, the Game and Fish Department’s annual breeding duck survey still found good duck numbers. This year’s breeding duck index was the 12th highest on record, down 5 percent from last year, but still 45 percent above the long-term average.
The department’s July brood survey indicated a 10 percent production increase from 2015, and somewhat improved wetland conditions from last year because of abundant late spring and early summer rains in some areas.
Game and Fish is predicting a fall flight of ducks from North Dakota that will compare favorably to last year.
Numbers of resident Canada geese, western prairie Canada geese and arctic nesting tall grass prairie Canada geese, snow geese and Ross’ geese all remain high. Besides the resident Canada geese, weather conditions and migration patterns will determine when the migrant geese arrive and how long they stay.
The winter of 2015-16 in much of the state was the mildest since when snow depth records were first kept in 1949-50. As such, for the 2016 hunting season, Game and Fish was able to offer several thousand more whitetail licenses than last year.
Based on hunter observations during opening weekend of the 2015 deer gun hunting season, the number of deer sighted per hour of effort was stable to increasing for most of the state.
The 2016 spring mule deer index was 21 percent higher than in 2015, the fourth consecutive year the spring index was higher than the previous year
Because of that, Game and Fish was able to increase the number of mule deer buck licenses again in 2016, and also offer a limited number of mule deer doe licenses for the first time in several years in hunting units 4D, 4E and 4F.
Pronghorn continue to show signs of recovery, with this year’s July aerial survey indicating a 34 percent population increase from last year, primarily due to a mild winter in 2015-16, followed by higher fawn production.
Statewide, pronghorn numbers are 94 percent higher than the low reached in 2012, but still nearly 50 percent below near record high numbers in 2007.
Game and Fish is opening pronghorn hunting in four more units this year, and issuing 320 more pronghorn licenses.
The mid-continent sandhill crane population is in good shape and hunters can continue to expect good opportunities this fall. Drier conditions should lead to abundant staging areas throughout the state, with receding water levels providing more open shorelines suitable for roosting cranes.
Coyotes are the most sought-after furbearer in North Dakota because of their valuable pelts, widespread distribution and challenging pursuit. According to spring surveys, coyote numbers remain strong in eastern North Dakota this year, but are trending downward in the west.
Muskrats, another highly desirable furbearer, will likely be found at numbers comparable to last year, with the Prairie Pothole Region having the highest densities.
Surveys also indicate an increase in badgers, beavers and raccoons throughout much of the state. And although fox and mink numbers are up slightly in some regions compared to last year, both species remain well below long-term averages.
The hunting season for mountain lions is slightly different this year, so be sure to read the regulations carefully and check the progress of the harvest limit on the Game and Fish website before going afield.
Cable device (such as snare) users no longer need to register with the department this year.
For details on season dates, bag limits and other regulations, consult the appropriate annual hunting guides, available at license vendors around the state, and on the Game and Fish Department’s website.