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2017 North Dakota Hunting Outlook

From N.D. Game and Fish Department

North Dakota weather extremes from last winter through summer will influence hunting prospects this fall. From heavy snow at the beginning of winter, to serious drought in many areas starting last spring, conditions overall have not been ideal for wildlife survival and reproduction.

Here’s a status review of 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 issue of the N.D. Game and Fish magazine, North Dakota OUTDOORS.

For more information on season dates and bag limits, visit the N.D. Game and Fish website at



  • Pheasants

    Ring-necked Pheasants

    North Dakota’s run of below-average winter snowfall came to an end in 2017.

    Results of this spring’s crowing count survey showed lower numbers of breeding roosters throughout most of the state’s traditional pheasant range. The number of roosters heard calling was down anywhere from 6-10 percent.

    As of this writing, biologists are conducting late summer roadside brood counts, but preliminary numbers indicate hunters will see fewer birds this fall, compared to 2016. There will be areas that had good production and other areas that had poor production, so hunters need to be mobile and be willing to move to different locations to find hunting opportunities.

    Despite weather concerns and knowing that North Dakota continues to lose quality Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) habitat, the state still supports good pheasant hunting opportunities.

  • Turkeys

    Wild turkeys

    The turkey population in many of the state’s hunting units has been lower than normal the past few years due to cool, wet spring conditions during nesting/brooding. Consequently, the N.D. Game and Fish Department has continued to reduce fall turkey licenses since 2008. Last fall, 2,361 hunters harvested 929 birds for a success rate of 39 percent.

  • Grouse

    Sharp-tailed grouse

    Hunters should find fair opportunities to pursue sharp-tailed grouse this fall, though grouse production was likely poor as a result of hot and dry weather. Suboptimal habitat conditions and reduced insect production were the result of drought conditions.

    Central and northeastern parts of the state faired a bit better, and will likely have localized areas that had good chick survival, so hunters need to be willing to travel to different areas for hunting opportunities.

  • Geese

    Ducks and geese


    Good wetland conditions and high waterfowl numbers were found again during the N.D. Game and Fish Department’s 70th annual breeding duck survey.

    Although most species declined somewhat from last year, all species, except pintail, blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks, were above the long-term average. 

    Duck numbers in North Dakota have remained high since 1994 because of exceptional water conditions and abundant nesting cover provided by CRP.

    The number of broods observed during the department’s July brood survey was down 4 percent from 2016, but was 30 percent above the 1965-2016 average.

    July wetland counts were down 38 percent from 2016, and 16 percent below the long-term average. 

    It’s predicted that a fall flight of ducks from North Dakota this year will be down about 8 percent from last year and similar to 2008.


    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.

    Hunting opportunities for geese will likely be highly variable across different regions of the state, depending on weather that influences migration timing.




  • Deer

    White-tailed deer

    The N.D. Game and Fish Department made 54,500 licenses available to deer gun hunters for 2017, which is 5,500 more than 2016.

     The statewide hunter success rate in 2016 was 66 percent, which is about the same as 2015 (68 percent), but below the department’s goal of 70 percent.

    Winter 2016-2017 was a mixed bag. Conditions in the southeastern and southwestern portions of the state were moderate, while the north central portion dealt with severe conditions. Luckily, February and March brought moderating temperatures and little additional snow.


    Mule deer

    Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to show signs of recovery following the severe winters of 2009-2011, which resulted in deer numbers declining by nearly 50 percent from 2007. 

    For the fifth consecutive year, the spring mule deer index was higher than the previous year. The 2017 spring index was 16 percent higher than 2016, and 58 percent higher than the long-term average.

    An increasing mule deer population will mean more hunting opportunities this fall. There were 2,450 antlered mule deer licenses available in 2017, which is an increase of 200 from 2016. Antlerless mule deer licenses also increased from 600 to 900 in 2017. 



  • Cranes

    Sandhill cranes

    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.


  • Furbearers

    This year, coyote numbers are trending downward in all regions of the state. As a result, it is not surprising that surveys indicate fox numbers are up slightly in the eastern half of the state. 

    Muskrats, another highly desirable furbearer, are also down in all regions of the state. In contrast, spring surveys indicate an increase in beavers, mink and weasels.

    The hunting season for mountain lions will be similar to last season, when hunters took 10 mountain lions in Zone 1, three in the early season and seven in the late season.