FROM THE DAKOTAS
New zone structure to provide extra goose hunting opportunities in North Dakota
The early Canada goose season began in 1999 and there’s no need for a history lesson beyond the point that the season was then, and remains today, an effort to help increase harvest on giant Canada geese that nest in North Dakota.
Over the course of nearly 20 years, biologists and wildlife managers have tweaked the season to provide more opportunities for hunter success.
This year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has adopted a new zone structure designed to provide extra hunting opportunities in September, without taking away quality late-season opportunities that are typically available in December.
Under the new structure, the state is now divided into three Canada goose zones – Missouri River, western and eastern – instead of two. Early Canada goose hunting opportunities open August 15 in all zones, but close on different dates.
“To get extra days of Canada goose hunting in September, you need to take them from December,” Game and Fish migratory game bird management supervisor said in the OUTDOORS article, and so this year the early season in the eastern zone ends Sept. 21, six days longer than last year.
“Basically, our worst Canada goose-landowner conflicts are in the eastern half of the state and getting those extra days back in September gets some more harvest pressure on those birds,” Szymanski said. “At the same time, that part of the state doesn’t have reliable, consistent hunting opportunities late into December.”
Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows North Dakota, which is located in the Central Flyway, a limited number (107) of days to hunt Canada geese starting September 1, waterfowl managers need to make adjustments on when to best use those days on a goose population that is above management objectives, and provide good hunting opportunities.
And that’s what Game and Fish has done to increase hunting options later in the season, when Canada geese staging on the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea can provide excellent opportunities well into December. The Missouri River and western zones have shorter earlier seasons than the eastern zone, but longer regular seasons.
Early Season Details
Zone 1 (Missouri River Zone)
● Opens – Aug. 15
● Closes – Sept. 7
Zone 2 (Western Zone)
● Opens – Aug. 15
● Closes – Sept. 15
Zone 3 (Eastern Zone)
● Opens – Aug. 15
● Closes – Sept. 21
In all three zones, the early season daily limit is 15, with a possession limit of 45. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
To hunt geese during the early season all residents regardless of age need a $5 early Canada goose license, and a general game and habitat license. Also, residents age 16 and older need a small game license.
Nonresidents need only a $50 early Canada goose license, and the license is valid statewide without counting against the 14-day regular season license.
Harvest Information Program certification is required, and beginning Sept. 1 a federal duck stamp for hunters age 16 and older is needed. More details are available at the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov
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Duck Brood Numbers Up from Last Year
State Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 12 percent from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl production survey.
This year’s duck brood index was up 37 percent from last year, and showed 5.11 broods per square mile, an increase of 39 percent. Average brood size is unchanged at 6.76 ducklings per brood.
Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said conditions were pretty dry after the May breeding duck survey, which indicated duck numbers and wetlands were down. “But most of the state received abundant rainfall from late May through early July, which was encouraging for the summer survey,” he said.
The July survey showed duck production in the northern tier of the state was very good, and Szymanski mentioned even areas farther south were still quite favorable. "We have been seeing good numbers of broods since the summer survey, and especially lots of young birds, which indicates renesting efforts were very strong," Szymanski said.
Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for about 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were up about 22 percent from last year, gadwalls were up about 47 percent, and blue-winged teal broods were up 45 percent. Blue-winged teal are typically the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota. In addition, pintail brood numbers were up 142 percent.
Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year’s water index was up 11 percent from last year. Szymanski said wetlands in the north central were still below average, but other areas were close to or slightly above average.
“Wetland conditions are still on the dry side, as the early summer rains slowed down quite a bit,” he added. “The larger basins are in pretty good shape, and even some of the local smaller basins that were dry this spring were filled from the earlier rainfall. But the small, shallow basins are beginning to show the effects and have the potential to dry up before the hunting season begins.”
Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.
The Game and Fish summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.
The survey started in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.
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2018 Small Game, Waterfowl and Furbearer Regulations Set
North Dakota’s 2018 small game, waterfowl and furbearer regulations are set and most season structures are similar to last year.
However, one major change from last year involves Canada goose hunting zones.
The Canada goose hunting season is divided into three zones – Missouri River, western and eastern. The Missouri River Canada goose zone has the same boundary as last year, while the western zone has the same boundary as the high plains duck unit, excluding the Missouri River zone. The eastern zone has the same boundary as the low plains duck unit.
Other noteworthy items include:
- Opening day for North Dakota residents is Sept. 22 for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota Sept. 29.
- The daily limit on pintails has increased from one to two.
- The prairie chicken and sage grouse seasons will remain closed due to low populations.
- In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or conservation PLOTS (Private Land Open To Sportsmen) areas from Oct. 6-12.
In addition, the state’s waterfowl, small game and furbearer regulations will have a new look this fall.
No longer printed as separate documents, North Dakota’s 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide includes three main sections – upland game, migratory game bird and furbearer/trapping.
The 52-page document offers much of the same information hunters and trappers rely on, but in a much more user-friendly format. In addition, the guide also features a 4-page colored duck identification guide, aquatic nuisance species information, boating safety for hunters and Tom Roster’s Nontoxic Shot Lethality Table.
Hunters and trappers can find the guide by visiting the Game and Fish Department’s website, gf.nd.gov. Printed guides will be available at vendor locations in mid-August.
For a complete listing of opening and closing dates, and daily and possession limits, refer to the table on pages 4-5 of the guide.
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Moose and Elk Lotteries Held, Bighorn Sheep in September
North Dakota's moose and elk lotteries have been held, and individual results are available by visiting My Account at the state Game and Fish Department's website, gf.nd.gov.
A total of 14,617 applications were received for bighorn sheep, 18,079 for elk and 21,042 for moose.
Successful applicants will receive a letter the week of April 30, stating the license will be mailed after the successful applicant submits the correct license fee and purchases a valid 2018-19 hunting license. All hunters, regardless of age, are required to have a general game and habitat license, or combination license, in addition to their moose/elk license.
The bighorn sheep lottery is scheduled in September, after summer population surveys are completed and total licenses are determined. Once the lottery is held, successful applicants will be contacted to select a hunting unit.
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Tentative 2018 Season Opening Dates
To help North Dakota hunters prepare for hunting seasons in 2018, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department annually provides its best estimate for opening dates for the coming year.
Dates become official when approved by governor’s proclamation. Tentative opening dates for 2018.
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