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PHEASANT PREVIEW: Oh yeah, pheasant season opens Saturday, too

Prairie chicken opener won't overshadow big event

By Brad Dokken

Herald Staff Writer

Despite the historical significance of North Dakota's first prairie chicken season since 1945, Saturday's opener won't detract from The Big Event on the upland game calendar.

North Dakota's pheasant season also opens Saturday.

Hunters venturing afield for this year's pheasant opener likely will have to work a little bit harder for their birds. According to Stan Kohn, upland game bird biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, the preseason population is down about 15 percent from last year.

That still should put the season on par with 2002, when hunters in North Dakota bagged 517,000 pheasants. Last year's banner season produced a harvest of 592,000 roosters.

"We must remember that we are comparing 2004 production to last year, when a bumper crop of pheasants led to a record harvest of nearly 600,000 roosters," Kohn said.

Dan Hare, Pheasants Forever director for North Dakota and Montana, says production declines in areas such as northwest and central North Dakota will be offset, in part, by gains in the southeast, where pheasant numbers are up 35 percent from last year.

That's good news for hunters in eastern North Dakota.

"It distributes pressure," Hare said. "Hunters in the eastern part of the state can take an hour drive and have good opportunities to see birds and then get back home. I think it's good all around to have a distribution of birds all across the state."

As with most years, Hare says finding good habitat will be the key to pheasant success. Conservation Reserve Program land has been hayed in some parts of the state, which will reduce cover, Hare says.

"That's going to push birds into what vegetation is out there," he said. "That's why I think when people find birds, they're going to find quite a few. You're going to see a lot of adult birds in the bag this year, especially in the southwest."

Unharvested crops also could factor into hunters' plans come opening day. The fields will attract pheasants, Hare says, but hunters can't enter fields that haven't been harvested without permission.

All the more reason, he says, to stop and visit with landowners.

"I always encourage hunters to pull into a farmstead and see what's going on," Hare said. "Visit a little bit; drum up a relationship with the landowner."

North Dakota's pheasant season opens Saturday and continues through Jan. 5. Limits are three roosters daily and 12 in possession, and hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset each day.

Boosted by last year's high total, North Dakota's average annual pheasant harvest in the last decade was 329,000, and the 10-year low, set in 1997, was 136,000 roosters. That means even with a few less birds on the landscape this year, the coming season will be well above average if the predictions come to pass.

"It's a great time to be a pheasant hunter right now," Hare said. "Folks who have any inkling to get outdoors certainly have ample opportunities in North Dakota this year to get out and enjoy."

Dokken covers the outdoors. Contact him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 extension 148, or by e-mail at

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