Even with reduced deer gun hunting opportunities the past several years, I'll still argue that deer hunting is king in North Dakota in terms of popularity. More than 70,000 prospective hunters continue to apply for regular deer gun season licenses, maintaining the popularity of deer hunting even though fewer than half the hunters who applied in this year received a license.

But before I get ahead of myself with the Nov. 6 deer opener, I think most would agree that if deer are king, pheasants and rooster hunting can make a strong case for prince. While I can't imagine pheasant hunting ever surpassing deer hunting as far as the number of people who want to participate, second place in this state is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you consider the great waterfowl hunting options available.

Pheasant HuntingWith the 2015 fall rooster season already underway, anyone who has not yet taken the field should find the prospects improved somewhat from last year.

The preseason roadside pheasant survey conducted in late July and August indicates total birds and number of broods are up statewide from 2014. Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the survey showed total pheasants were up 30 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were up 23 percent, while the average brood size was up 9 percent.

The final summary is based on 259 survey runs made along 105 brood routes across North Dakota.

"Our late summer roadside counts indicate pheasant hunters are going to find more birds in the southern half of the state this fall, with the southwest having the strongest population of young roosters," Kohn said. "Hunters will also find average habitat conditions on the landscape."

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were up 34 percent and broods observed up 31 percent from 2014. Observers counted 25 broods and 207 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 6.2.

Results from the southeast show birds are up 27 percent from last year, and the number of broods up 21percent. Observers counted eight broods and 62 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.5.

Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are down 18 percent from last year, with broods down 32 percent. Observers recorded six broods and 46 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 6.3.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat, with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed two broods and 15 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 4.3. Number of birds observed was down 17 percent, and the number of broods recorded was down 7 percent.

While at least some of that decline is related to the loss of more than 1.5 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in North Dakota since 2007, a mild winter would surely help keep the pheasant population headed in the right direction.

As more than 40,000 hunters prepare for the upcoming deer gun season, those who didn't draw a license should find a few more reasons to smile during their pheasant hunts before, during and after the deer gun season.

While 2015 regular pheasant season opened Oct. 10, it continues through Jan. 3, 2016.

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