BISMARCK, N.D.(KXNET) — This week’s news from the ND Game and Fish Department has revealed the results of their annual Upland Game Brood Survey — as well as the expansion of a license, upcoming hunting seasons, and a youth-oriented waterfowl event scheduled for this weekend.

Upland Game Brood Survey Results

During this year’s roadside surveys of Upland Game birds (which were conducted in late July and August), it was noted that the numbers of pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray partridges in North Dakota saw an increase from 2022. RJ Gross, an Upland Game Biologist with Game and Fish, notes that this could have been due to exceptional survey conditions — however, these had no impact on the brood’s sizes or age ratios, which also experienced an uptick over time.

“Hunters should expect to find similar or higher numbers than last year,” Gross stated in a press release, “with good numbers of hatch-year birds in their bags.”

In terms of exact numbers, the total number of pheasants observed was found to be 65 individual birds and 7.5 broods per 100 miles of land — a 61% increase in birds and 70% increase in broods. The average size of a pheasant brood (6.3 birds) also increased by 2%. Sharptails, too, saw a major increase of 116% statewide, with observers recording 2.6 broods and 29 sharptails per 100 miles at an average brood size of six. Gross notes that the grouse population has returned to what many consider to be a ‘high point’ last seen from 2011 to 2015.

“Hunters should expect to find a good ratio of hatch-year grouse in 2023,” he continues in the release. “Much of the increase in sharptail observations was driven by a rebounding population in the southwest district.”

The largest gains reported came from the partridge population — where numbers increased by 200% from 2022. Observers counted a total of 2.4 broods and 36 partridges per 100 miles, with an average brood size of 11 — a number that is tied with record highs last seen in 1992. Gross noted that this is the first time that more partridges were observed than sharptails on typical brood routes.

The grouse and partridge seasons are currently underway, and will continue through January 7. The pheasant season opens on October 7, and also lasts through January 7.

Bighorn Sheep License Expansion

The Department of Game and Fish has announced that they have allocated one extra license to hunt bighorn sheep during the 2023 hunting season, resulting in a total of six — an increase from five from last year.

In units B1, B3, and B5, one license was issued, and two were distributed for unit B4. The final, extra license was auctioned in May by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation. All proceeds from the auction will be used to help manage and enhance the bighorn sheep populations of our state.

Prospective hunters were asked to apply for these licenses earlier this year during the bighorn sheep, moose, and elk application — during which a record 20,290 hunters applied. Successful applicants have already been notified.

Upcoming Season Openers

According to Game and Fish, two hunting seasons will be opening this week: the general Sandhill Crane season, and a small deer hunting season for underage residents.

The current limits on Sandhill Cranes are three daily/nine in possession in Unit 1 (west of U.S. Highway 281), and two daily/six in possession in Unit 2 (east of the highway). All shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise until 2:00 p.m. each day. Participating hunters are asked to use the utmost caution and close identification to avoid shooting at whooping cranes (an endangered species who are currently beginning their fall migration).

The Sandhill Crane season opens on September 16, and runs through November 12. In addition to requiring the usual licenses, hunters seeking to take part in this season require a $10 crane permit (or $30 for nonresidents), which is available at this link. Certification with the state’s Harvest Information Program is also required, and can also be obtained through Game and Fish’s website.

In addition to Sandhill Crane Season, this week also features the beginning of the Youth Deer Season on Friday, September 15. This nine-and-a-half day window allows younger hunters to try their luck at bagging bucks across North Dakota.

During the short season, resident deer gun hunters who are 14 or 15 this year are permitted to hunt for any deer statewide. A special license is still requires to hunt Antlered Mule Deer in units 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, and 4F. Hunters who are 11, 12, or 13 are permitted to hunt solely for antlerless white-tailed deer.

All young deer hunters must be under the direct supervision of an adult, who is prohibited from carrying a gun or bow while monitoring the young hunter. Orange clothing is required for both youth hunters and mentors.

After opening day, hunting hours are considered to be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. The youth deer season closes September 24, but youth licenses are valid during both this time period and the regular deer gun seasons.

Youth and Military Waterfowl Weekend

In addition to the beginning of Sandhill Crane Season, September 16 notes the start of the youth waterfowl weekend — which also lines up with the special veteran and active military waterfowl season.

From September 16-17, legally licensed resident and nonresident hunters 15 and younger — as well as veterans and members of the Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserves on active duty (aside from training) are permitted to hunt ducks, coots, geese, and mergansers throughout North Dakota. Daily bag limits and species restrictions during this time are the exact same as regular duck and goose seasons, but the additional two blue-winged teal that are typically allowed during the regular season are not permitted.

All residents and qualifying youth hunters must possess a general game and habitat license in order to participate in the weekend. In addition, youth 12 and older must have passed a hunter certification course, hunters 16 and older need to possess a federal waterfowl stamp, and veterans or Armed Forces members require a resident hunting license. Like the Sandhill Crane hunting , all interested participants must also be Harvest Information Program-certified.

For those seeking more information on the weekend event, Game and Fish has established a webpage to serve as a Virtual Mentor which includes all of the basics about waterfowl hunting, including regulations, license requirements, and advice on finding gear and ideal hunting spots.

To learn more about any of these topics, visit the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s main website.