North Dakota pheasant estimate up but drought is wild card

June 29, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Wildlife officials say North Dakota’s spring pheasant population estimate is up 3% from last year, but worry that an extended drought could cut into hunting prospects in the fall.

“The statewide number might be a bit misleading since we are notably down in the southwest, while most of the state benefited from good reproduction in 2020 and a mild winter,” said R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist with the state Game and Fish Department.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stop at predetermined intervals and count the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a 2-minute period.

The number of roosters detected this spring was up in the northwest, southeast and northeast regions. The southwest area, which is generally considered the state’s main pheasant hunting region, was recorded at 18.4 crows per stop, down from 19.6 in 2020, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

Drought is causing delayed growth in nesting cover, brood-rearing cover and croplands across the state, according to Gross. Extended drought could prevent insect hatches, reducing food available to chicks.

It took the state about three years to recover from the last drought, in 2017.

“We are hopeful that the latest rain events will foster insect production to bolster pheasant chick foraging,” Gross said.