Looking Ahead to Fall Hunting Season

June 24, 2015 by  

Here it is barely summer–the calendar says summer began June 21– and a lot of us are already looking ahead to what the fall hunting season might provide. While some prospects are risky to try to pin down just yet, spring weather conditions can give us some ideas about how various species have fared so far.

150624duck survey conditions (1)

Despite some factors that aren’t as favorable as in the past, we have good reasons to look forward to the fall of 2015

After a light winter snow pack and a dry early spring, eastern North Dakota was about the only segment of the state not dealing with extremely dry conditions. With little runoff and no rain, April wetland conditions weren’t ideal, and lack of moisture also inhibits grass growth, which can mean less-than-ideal nesting habitat for many duck species, as well as pheasants and grouse.

Since early May, however, rains have returned to the state and many areas are back to near-normal or even above-normal precipitation amounts. By the time North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists conducted the spring breeding waterfowl survey in mid-May, wetland conditions across the state this year were above average, and quite a turn-around from the way things looked in mid-April.

Duck numbers were down from last year, according to preliminary results from the spring duck survey, but that’s likely because of the lack of small wetlands with water in April, so some ducks moved on from North Dakota to look elsewhere for suitable water.

As the summer duck brood surveys come through in later July, we’ll have a better handle on exactly where the fall flight stands. Based on what we know so far, local duck production may not be quite up to par with past years.

Deer, on the other hand, are not influenced as much by dry conditions in the short term. While there wasn’t enough snow to conduct aerial population surveys for white-tailed deer, the Game and Fish Department is optimistic that winter survival was good.

The spring mule deer survey in the badlands occurs when the snow is gone, and mule deer numbers were up again this year, and as such, Game and Fish was able to increase the number of mule deer buck licenses for this fall by a couple of hundred. While overall deer license numbers are down, the people who do get a license should have opportunities.

Spring pheasant and grouse counts are not tallied just yet, but winter weather conditions point toward improved populations for upland birds as well, at least compared to last year.

It’s important to remember, however, that weather is not the only factor at work here.

If you’ve read this column before, you’ve no doubt seen accounts of the shrinking number of Conservation Reserve Program and other grassland acres in North Dakota. This loss of idled grassland, combined with other variables, has hurt wildlife populations across the Midwest.

In the short term, high winter survival for pheasants and grouse means the potential is still there for a favorable fall, but that’s only in relation to where things were last year. Even with ideal weather during the nesting and brood rearing period, statewide pheasant numbers will still be roughly half of what they were 10 years ago.

Still, despite some factors that aren’t as favorable as in the past, we have good reasons to look forward to the fall of 2015, while at the same time enjoying the two thirds of summer that remains.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email at: [email protected]



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