- Associated Press - Friday, July 14, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Bad weather last winter and drought this summer might combine to put a damper on the fall pheasant hunt in North Dakota.

A spring crowing count survey conducted by the state Game and Fish Department indicated the population might be down about 14 percent from a year ago, with a drop in bird numbers statewide.

“December and January provided a rough start to winter, with record snowfall and extremely cold temperatures making it less than ideal for all wildlife,” said upland game management biologist R.J. Gross. “In addition, last year’s production was below average, so we entered this spring with a lower-than-average number of adult upland birds.”

The spring data isn’t always a good indicator of what the pheasant population will be in the fall when hunters take to the field. Brood surveys that will begin in a couple of weeks will provide a better indication, but officials aren’t overly optimistic.

“Time will tell, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if our numbers don’t look great,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows nearly three-fourths of North Dakota in some stage of drought. Pheasants might be the wildlife species most impacted - nearly all of the southwest, which is prime pheasant territory, is in extreme drought.

Drought generally doesn’t have a big impact on hatching, but it reduces the amount of insects available for pheasant chicks to eat and also decreases habitat, leaving young birds more susceptible to predators, Williams said. Drought also hampers adult pheasants that lose their first brood to weather, predators or some other reason and try to nest again during the summer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping drought-impacted farmers and ranchers by allowing emergency haying and grazing of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program - land that provides good habitat for pheasants.

The loss of some of that grass cover shouldn’t have a big impact on the pheasant population, though, and Game and Fish supports the effort to help agricultural producers, Williams said.

The agency’s unofficial benchmark for a successful pheasant season is 500,000 birds killed.

“It would probably be pretty optimistic to think that in a year like this we would see half a million birds being harvested,” Williams said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake


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