Most hunters don't apologize if their conversations drift to the coming fall hunting season while they are still enjoying summer fishing, camping or one of many other outdoor activities. We're prone to keeping one eye on the bobber and another on the calendar while our imagination ponders what the fields and skies might hold this fall.

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North Dakota's spring pheasant crowing count index is up 10 percent from last year​

While we all may have our own ideas as to what the fall upland bird seasons might hold, North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists have been gradually gathering data and information on post-winter bird populations. Pretty much all the spring index numbers are in now, which gives us one piece of the puzzle to contemplate before the late-summer brood surveys begin in a couple of weeks.

North Dakota's spring pheasant crowing count index is up 10 percent from last year. Most folks were expecting some sort of an increase given the relatively mild winter, and the survey confirmed those suspicions.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up in all primary pheasant regions statewide, with increases ranging from about 2 to 12 percent.

"A much improved production year for pheasants in spring 2014, coupled with the mild winter, produced a healthy breeding population this spring," Kohn said.

While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not necessarily predict what the fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide an index to summer pheasant production and a much better estimate as to what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.

Kohn said a higher spring population is good for production if the weather cooperates and nesting habitat is available. "This spring's weather hasn't been ideal, but I don't think it has been a cause for major concern yet either," he said.

What is a concern, according to Kohn, is the continued loss of grassland habitat, because of expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres and native prairie conversion. "All of this affects the amount of nesting and brood rearing habitat on the landscape, and as we lose grassland habitat we lose ground nesting bird populations," Kohn said.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota.Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years' data, providing a trend summary.

Another bit of good news is that sharp-tailed grouse counts were up as well. Statistics indicate a 22 percent increase in the number of male grouse counted compared to last year.

Statewide, 4,346 sharp-tails were observed on spring dancing grounds this year compared to 3,551 in 2014. Male grouse recorded per square mile increased from 3.4 to 4.2.

Aaron Robinson, upland game biologist in Dickinson, echoes Kohn's sentiments that spring numbers are not necessarily a reliable predictor of fall grouse hunter success.

And that's no different than your favorite fall team. We can talk a lot about fall in summer, but we won't know for sure for a few months what the fields will hold … for football teams and upland game.