The news many North Dakota upland hunters were waiting for came this morning when the Game and Fish Department announced the results of its spring pheasant crowing count. Spring sharptail numbers also were up.
The success of this year’s hatch will be perhaps the biggest determining factor in this year’s hunting seasons, but so far, the news is favorable based on the spring pheasant and sharptail surveys.
Here’s the news release from the Game and Fish Department:
Spring Pheasant Count Tops Last Year
North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up 10 percent from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2015 spring crowing count survey.
Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up statewide, with increases ranging from about 2 percent to 12 percent in the primary regions holding pheasants.
“A much improved production year for pheasants in spring 2014, coupled with the mild winter, produced a healthy breeding population this spring,” Kohn said.
While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not predict what the fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.
Kohn mentioned a higher breeding population is good for production if the weather cooperates and nesting habitat is available. “This spring’s weather hasn’t been ideal, but I don’t think it has been a cause for major concern yet either,” he said.
Of concern, according to Kohn, is the continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres, variable commodity prices and native grassland conversion. “All of this affects the amount of nesting and brood rearing habitat on the landscape, and as we lose grassland habitat we lose ground nesting bird populations,” Kohn said.
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.
The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.
Here’s what Game and Fish had to say about sharptails:
Spring Sharptails Look Good
Statistics from the 2015 spring sharp-tailed grouse census indicate a 22 percent increase in the number of male grouse counted compared to last year.
Statewide, 4,346 sharptails were observed on spring dancing grounds this year compared to 3,551 in 2014. Male grouse recorded per square mile increased from 3.4 to 4.2. More than 1,000 square miles were covered.
Aaron Robinson, upland game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Dickinson, said the outlook for the 2015 hunting season is still premature as lek counts are a metric of population trends and not a reliable predictor of hunter success.
“Preliminary observations indicate good residual cover for a favorable hatch, but this is heavily influenced by timing, duration, location of severe precipitation and low temperatures,” Robinson said.
An indication of the fall season won’t be known until completion of brood surveys in late summer.
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