The History of Hunting Dogs in North Dakota

February 18, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Looking back over the history of hunting and conservation in North Dakota, there’s never a shortage of topics warranting a double-take. Even the contemporary populations of Canada geese, and realizing we’re allotting 100,000 more deer tags than in the 1970s fit that category.

Here’s another tidbit from the annals of North Dakota history, the biennial report of the Game and Fish Board of Control (predecessor to the Game and Fish Department) from 1919-20:

“It is conceded by everybody that the grouse and prairie chickens were never more plentiful than they were the past two seasons and all true sportsmen together with a good many of those who at first opposed the law now are agreed that the bill cutting out the use of dogs was one of the most far-sighted pieces of legislation ever passed by a North Dakota legislative assembly for the conservation of game and should never be repealed if we want the growing generations to enjoy this game bird.”

Not long after this passage was written, it became better understood that habitat and weather were much greater influences on wildlife populations than use of dogs.

In 1943, when North Dakota was the only state in the country where using dogs for hunting birds was illegal, the legislature repealed the prohibition. This came at a time when pheasant and partridge populations were exploding and hunting opportunities were once again plentiful, even though prairie chickens were almost down to their last hunting season.

Long before outlawing dogs for hunting, the state legislature restricted when individuals and professionals could have their dogs in the field. At first it was April or May through Aug 15. The obvious reason for this is so dogs are not interfering with upland game or waterfowl breeding and brood-rearing. After mid-August, most young upland game birds can fly and escape working dogs.

Current North Dakota rules and regulations allow individuals to train dogs on state wildlife management areas after Aug. 15. Professional trainers are allowed to work dogs on private lands after July 14, provided the trainer has permission from the landowner and no wild birds are captured or killed.

An individual dog owner or trainer can release pen-raised birds outside of proclaimed hunting seasons, but only as prescribed by Department rules and regulations. The same is true for some trials. However, nowadays pheasants are so widespread that just about anywhere that pen-raised birds are released there is a chance of wild birds in the vicinity.

It is well known by game wardens and biologists that a small number of wild birds are accidentally taken during personal and professional training exercises, and during field trials. The concern is that wild birds are public resources and should not be at risk outside of a state-regulated hunting season.

Game and Fish has for many years allowed field trials on a few designated wildlife management areas, but has received complaints from people who were disappointed to find one of these WMAs crowded with dog trial competitors on an opening day of a season.

Game and Fish has also received feedback from hunters, especially early sharp-tailed grouse hunters, who are concerned about young game birds that are pressured too much by commercial operations prior to the grouse season opener.

The message in this column as August turns to September is simply to communicate that Game and Fish Department administrators are aware of these concerns, and are looking into the extent of the concerns to determine if changes in current policy are warranted.

Anyone interested in providing input is encouraged to do so by sending an email to [email protected]; or calling the Game and Fish Department at (701) 328-6300.


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