North Dakota's pheasant season is just around the corner, but before we take a look at the prospects for hunters on opening day, let's glance in the rear view mirror for a recent historical recap.
Last year, about 85,000 resident and nonresident hunters bagged about 590,000 roosters. That was up just slightly from the 587,000 pheasant harvest estimate from 2014.
When you look at the long-term picture, the last two years would rank as the state's best from the years 1947 through 2002. In the last 10 years though, 2015 and 2014 would rank toward the bottom.
From North Dakota Game and Fish Department statistics, the last 10 pheasant harvests look like this: 2006--750,787; 2007--907,434; 2008--776,709; 2009--651,700; 2010--552,884; 2011--683,563; 2012--616,126; 2013--444,134; 2014--587,000; 2015--590,000.
It's no secret that the decline since 2007 is largely attributable to a reduction in Conservation Reserve Program and other grasslands in the state since then, but any harvest over 500,000 still seems respectable, considering North Dakota hunters did not achieve that number even once in the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s.
And that brings us to the 2016 pheasant season, with prospects for another good year even though Game and Fish survey numbers indicate a bit lower fall population than last year.
The survey, conducted in late July through the end of August, showed total pheasants statewide were down 10 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were down 7 percent, while the average brood size was down 8 percent.
"Compared to last year, our late summer roadside counts indicate pheasant hunters are going to have to work harder to find more pheasants in most parts of the state, with fewer young roosters showing up in the fall population," said Aaron Robinson, Game and Fish upland game supervisor. "As always, there will be local areas within all four pheasant districts where pheasant numbers will be both better and below what is predicted for the district."
• Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 21 percent and broods observed down 19 percent from 2015. Observers counted 21 broods and 168 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 5.5.
• In the southeast, total pheasants were down 4 percent from last year, with the number of broods up 1 percent. Observers counted eight broods and 62 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.0.
• Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are up 129 percent from last year, with broods up 161 percent. Observers recorded 12 broods and 93 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 6.1.
• The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat, with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed two broods and 14 birds per 100 miles, which was about the same as last year. The number of broods recorded was up 5 percent and average brood size was 3.9.
Statistically, these numbers would suggest a fairly similar hunt to last year. But don't forget, numbers can change from locale to locale, based on weather and any land use changes since last year.
The 2016 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 8 and continues through Jan. 8, 2017. The daily limit is three and the possession limit is 12. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.