By Doug Leier

Doug Leier

 I was paging through old photographs at Mom and Dad’s earlier this fall, looking for a 1980s picture of my Dad, his friend, Robert, and myself after a pheasant hunt in LaMoure County.

We each held and proudly displayed one trophy rooster. It was from 1983 when you had 24 or so pictures on a roll of film and the investment was even more for buying and developing the precious film.

 Honestly, three decades later, the photograph is priceless.

 It represents the value of a hunt with friends and the level of success was measured in a few birds and not “bagging a three-man limit” before lunch. Don’t get me wrong, the expansion of Conservation Reserve Program acres and the addition of other wildlife and habitat across the landscape since the 1980s has been a boon for pheasants and hunters alike.

 While the technology is no longer Kodachrome, the bottom line is success is still relevant to hunters as much this fall as ever before.

 North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists forecast that hunters should find a few more birds across the landscape this autumn than last year.

 R. J. Gross, Department upland game biologist, said results of the annual late summer brood counts brought some good news.

 “We had good residual cover to start the year, and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing,” he said. “There were some areas that experienced abnormally dry periods throughout the summer, but nesting appeared to be successful.”

 Total pheasants observed per 100 miles are up 38% from last year, but 14% below the 10-year average. Broods per 100 miles are up 30% from last year and 16% below the 10-year average. Average brood size is up 10% from 2019 and 5% below the 10-year average. The final summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 100 brood routes across North Dakota.

 “While these numbers are encouraging, it’s important to remember that bird numbers in the last five years have been lower than what upland game hunters have been used to for many years, due to changing habitat conditions and the drought of 2017,” Gross said. “For context, these numbers put us about half-way back to where we were prior to the 2017 drought. Local populations are building back up, but they are not at the point yet of spreading out into new territories. Hunters will need to find localized hotspots of pheasants.”

 Observers in the northwest counted 12 broods and 91 pheasants per 100 miles, up from five broods and 39 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six.

 Results from the southeast showed five broods and 41 pheasants per 100 miles, down from six broods and 51 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was five.

 Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicated eight broods and 70 pheasants per 100 miles, up from six broods and 41 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was six chicks.

 The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, showed three broods and 22 pheasants per 100 miles, compared to three broods and 15 pheasants last year. Average brood size was six.

 North Dakota’s pheasant season opens Oct. 10 and continues through Jan. 3, 2021.

Featured Photo: Throwback. The author (R) with his uncle (L) and father (C) after a successful early 1980s pheasant hunt.

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