By Doug Leier

Growing up as a kid in the 1980s, across the prairie from Williston to LaMoure and Valley City, December was a time of transition in our house. After the close of regular deer rifle season, the collection of my Dad's gear in the "ready" position shifted from primarily hunting, to a mix of hunting and ice fishing equipment, and then as the ice thickened the shotguns were cleaned and put away as ice fishing took center stage.

Late season pheasant hunting is great with the snow and low pressure

I could tell by the boots when he was ready to focus his attention on the early ice bite, but over the course of years the pheasant hunting gear seemed to stay in position a little further into December.

I'm not real certain how many hunters pursue pheasants in December, but I suspect the number has increased along with the pheasant population over the last couple of decades. Even on optimal December days the conditions are more taxing than on a nice October walk across the prairie.

And yet, for many hunters a chase for skittish roosters directly into below-zero wind-chills is still preferable to staying at home.

The total December pheasant take is not nearly as significant as that of October. In fact, the combined harvest of November and December is still well below that of October, even though the number of days open for hunting in October is less than a third of the entire pheasant season.

Just how much the December harvest contributes to the overall total probably depends a lot on the weather. Which makes me wonder. Can difficult weather that keeps even the die-hards indoors mean the difference between a good year and one that is not up to expectations?

I can't help but ponder last fall's pheasant harvest, which dipped below the modern day high of more than 900,000 birds in 2007, to less than 800,000. Many a hunter assumed the 2008 pheasant take might be similar or even higher than 2007, given preseason bird numbers. But I also recall the awful weather and hunting conditions from early November last year, basically until the end of the season.

This year brings a different set of circumstances. Bird numbers are down, but we've had excellent pheasant hunting weather during November. Predictions for December are for milder conditions than last year. While Game and Fish doesn't keep a statistic for hunting effort and bird harvest in November and December, it would be interesting to know how this year will compare to last year.

All this is just a reminder that there are other factors besides bird numbers that contribute to total harvest for a season. While last year's total might have been slightly lower due to disagreeable hunting conditions in December, the decline of more than 100,000 birds from 2007 is mostly attributable to something else.

On the other hand, perhaps 2009's pheasant harvest will somewhat exceed expectations because hunters took more trips because the weather was nice, at least compared to a year ago.

Even with a mild November, we are still in a transition time and as you begin moving from hunting into ice fishing and spearing, or predator hunting, don't forget the remaining open seasons. And when holiday discussions circle around last season's pheasant hunting, summer fishing or duck migration, remember that there's always more than one factor to consider while you're constructing the big picture.

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