By Doug Leier

I've always been intrigued by numbers and the dynamics of statistics. While the numbers themselves, if they are accurate, are more or less facts, the factors contributing to those final statistics are where the real fun comes in.
Consider, for instance, last fall's deer and pheasant harvest numbers. When the North Dakota Game and Fish Department releases these numbers, they will be either up, down or about same as the previous year.

The interesting question is "why?"

If the pheasant harvest is down, it could be related to loss of habitat, a tough winter, less than optimal conditions for reproduction, reduced hunter effort, or a combination of several of these.

Weather in October 2009 was nothing short of dismal for many upland game hunters. As a generalization it was cool and wet. Remember opening day of pheasant season? My son and I walked only a couple of small grass tracts and I was ready to call it a day and because of the wind and the rain.

The pheasant opener is supposed to be warm, the type of day when a light jacket is sufficient cover until I get too hot and have to shed a layer and walk with a long sleeve shirt. I wore a long sleeved shirt, but only after a hot shower at the end of our day. It was a memorable opener, due to the weather and not the birds.

Now, spread similar conditions across the state and you have to wonder how many other hunters didn't quite sustain a full opening-weekend effort. Cold and windy for an October pheasant hunt isn't ideal, but it's tolerable. When you add wet to the equation, enthusiasm for opening weekend dies quickly, and I've heard from many other hunters who shared the same experience.

If that opening weekend is an annual trip or hunt for which there is not likely a replacement, total harvest might be reduced from what would have occurred with two days of 60 degrees and sunshine.

Opening weekend on deer season has similar circumstances for a fair number of hunters. Tradition brings them back to a certain place or group, but they have no intention of returning if they don't get a deer the first weekend. If weather is substandard, their season is over and the total harvest is not quite as high as it could have been with favorable weather.

Last fall, November weather was an improvement over October, though the October moisture slowed the corn harvest and many fields and roads never did dry out. I heard many hunters exclaim that they spent more time deer hunting this fall, which reduced their opportunities for late pheasant hunts to wind down their fall.

I don't know the exact break-out of pheasant harvest by month or week, but it's a certainty that harvest is influenced by weather. A snowy, cold December can shut down all but the most avid of hardcore pheasant hunters. On the other hand, a mild and brown December provides opportunity for even fair-weather pheasant hunters to take to the field a few more times.

Let me go on record with a prediction that the statewide pheasant bag for 2009 may be down from 2008. In reality, that's not stepping very far out on the limb as the preseason brood surveys and population estimates were down markedly from the previous year.

How much better would that harvest number look with favorable opening weekend weather? Most likely not enough to change the comparison to the previous year from "down" to "about the same," but we can easily speculate that the statistical number would have been better with nice weather on opening weekend.

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