FROM THE DAKOTAS
Devils Lake Waterfowl Season Looking Up
All signs are pointing to one of the best Devils Lake waterfowl seasons in many years. This area of central North Dakota is blessed with lots of water, and this year, despite droughts further to the west, had abundant moisture.
The owner of the oldest established waterfowl guide service in North Dakota, Kyle Blanchfield, said, "The local duck hatch was above normal. The Manitoba ducks are doing great (most of our migratory birds come from there), and the snow goose hatch was one of the top five ever. It all adds up to a real bright spot for hunters."
With good water, the local ducks and local giant Canada goose populations are at solid numbers. When Blanchfield added the snows and Canadian ducks to the mix, he said, "I'm really excited about the season." North Dakota waterfowl seasons start Sept. 30 and run into December.
Blanchfield was in northern Saskatchewan recently and was amazed at the snow geese numbers up there. "The past couple of years produced a minimal snow goose hatch. A great hatch means several things," he said. When the ratio is four juvenile birds to two adults, hunting is much better. He expects that ratio this season. "The juveniles are easier to decoy, and they actually bring the adults into decoy sets with them," he explained. Mid-October to mid-November marks the snow goose migration.
Water, birds and habitat are a blessing for Devils Lake hunters. So, too, are the accommodations and guide services. Blanchfield at Woodland Resort runs six hunting groups daily, and is 90 percent full for the entire season. The Devils Lake Chamber has contact details for other guide services.
For more information about Devils Lake motels and resorts, fishing and waterfowl cleaning stations, water levels, ramps, public fishing piers, fishing reports for walleye, pike, perch and white bass, community activities, guides, dining, casino and much more, go to devilslakend.com or call the tourism office at 701-662-4903.
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Pheasant Hunting Season Opens Oct. 7
North Dakota pheasant hunters are reminded the season opens Oct. 7 and continues through Jan. 7, 2018.
In past years, the season typically opened the second Saturday in October. However, the 2017 state legislature passed a law which requires the pheasant hunting season to open no later than Oct. 12. The 2017 North Dakota OUTDOORS calendar, which was printed prior to the start of the legislative session, lists opening day as Oct. 14.
Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily limit is three and possession limit is 12.
Hunters, regardless of age, must have a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate, and a general game and habitat license. In addition, hunters age 16 and older need a small game license.
For further season information and regulations, hunters should consult the North Dakota 2017-18 Small Game Hunting Guide.
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Wetland Conditions Fair for Duck Hunting
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual fall wetland survey indicates fair, but declining wetland conditions for duck hunting throughout the state.
The fall wetland survey is conducted in mid-September, just prior to the waterfowl hunting season to provide an assessment of conditions duck hunters can expect. Duck hunting wetlands are classified as seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands.
Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist, said the number of duck hunting wetlands are down statewide about 40 percent from last year, and are the lowest since 2008. He said the number of wetlands in every region lying north and east of the Missouri River is down since last fall, with the southeast suffering the most from the drought. Dinges said hunters should find more wetlands available for hunting in the northern reaches of the state.
“Wetland conditions are declining, however, we are still holding on to most of our semi-permanent wetlands,” Dinges added. “These remaining wetlands are in fair to good shape, providing a hopeful outlook for the season. However, hunters should expect some wider mud margins around wetlands, possibly making hunting more difficult.”
Dinges added that moisture conditions were good early in the year because of substantial snowfall that covered much of the state last winter, but the severe drought that hampered the state during early and mid-summer caused conditions to rapidly deteriorate.
“Some much-needed August precipitation helped green up many areas of the state, but not enough to reverse declining wetland conditions,” he said.
The quality of waterfowl hunting in North Dakota is largely determined by weather conditions and migration patterns. Dinges said fair reproduction for ducks in traditional breeding areas this year still makes for good fall hunting potential in North Dakota.
“Hunters should always scout because of ever changing conditions and distribution of waterfowl,” he added. “Hunters should also be cautious driving off-trail to avoid soft spots, and while encountering areas of tall vegetation that could be a fire hazard.”
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Game and Fish Summarizes Pheasant Brood Data
North Dakota’s roadside pheasant survey conducted in late July and August indicates total birds and number of broods are down statewide from 2016.
R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the survey shows total pheasants observed per 100 miles are down 61 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were down 63 percent, while the average brood size was down 19 percent. The final summary is based on 279 survey runs made along 103 brood routes across North Dakota.
“Brood data suggests very poor production this spring when compared to 2016, which results in less young birds added to the fall population,” Gross said. “The majority of the state was in extreme drought conditions during critical times for pheasant chicks. This resulted in poor nesting/brood habitat and more than likely a less than ideal insect hatch.”
Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 59 percent and broods observed down 60 percent from 2016. Observers counted eight broods and 68 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 4.3.
Results from the southeast show birds are down 60 percent from last year, and the number of broods down 70 percent. Observers counted two broods and 24 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 4.7.
Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are down 72 percent from last year, with broods are down 76 percent. Observers recorded three broods and 24 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.2.
The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat, with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed one brood and six birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 3.5. Number of birds observed was down 54 percent, and the number of broods recorded was down 63 percent.
The 2017 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 7 and continues through Jan. 7, 2018. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
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2017 Waterfowl Regulations Set
North Dakota’s 2017 waterfowl season is set, with the season framework similar to last year.
Noteworthy changes include the daily limit on pintails is reduced from two to one, and the west boundary of the Missouri River Canada Goose Zone, north of N.D. Highway 200, is extended to N.D. Highway 8.
Opening day for North Dakota residents is Sept. 23 for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota Sept. 30. The season for swans opens Sept. 30 for both residents and nonresidents.
Hunters may take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards of which two may be hens, three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two canvasbacks and one pintail. Similar to last year, hunters can take an additional two blue-winged teal from Sept. 23 through Oct. 8. The daily limit of five mergansers may include no more than two hooded mergansers. For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.
The hunting season for Canada geese in the Missouri River zone will close Dec. 29, while the remainder of the state will close Dec. 21. The season for whitefronts closes Dec. 3, while the season on light geese is open through Dec. 31. Shooting hours for all geese are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 4. Beginning Nov. 5, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day.
Extended shooting hours for all geese are permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset on Saturdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 22, and on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Nov. 23 through the end of each season.
The bag limit for Canada geese during the regular season is eight daily and 24 in possession, except in the Missouri River zone where the limit is five daily and 15 in possession.
The daily limit on whitefronts is three with nine in possession, and light goose is 50 daily, with no possession limit.
The early Canada goose season will open Aug. 15 and continue through Sept. 15, except in the Missouri River Zone where the season ends Sept. 7. The early Canada goose season has a limit of 15 daily and 45 in possession.
The special youth waterfowl hunting season is Sept. 16-17. Legally licensed residents and nonresidents 15 years of age or younger can hunt ducks, coots, mergansers and geese statewide. Youth hunters must be HIP registered, have a general game and habitat license and a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate. A licensed adult of at least 18 years of age must accompany the youth hunter into the field.
Nonresidents have the option of buying either a statewide waterfowl license or one with zone restrictions. Nonresidents who designate zones 1 or 2 may hunt that zone for only one seven-day period during the season. Nonresident hunters who choose to hunt in zone 1 or 2 and wish to use the full 14 consecutive days allowed, must use the other seven days in zone 3. Hunters in zone 3 can hunt that zone the entire 14 days.
In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or conservation PLOTS (Private Land Open To Sportsmen) areas from Oct. 7-13.
Hunters who do not HIP certify when they buy a North Dakota license, can add it later through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling 888-634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license. Those who registered to hunt North Dakota’s spring light goose season or early Canada goose season do not have to register with HIP again, as it is required in each state only once per year.
Hunters should refer to the 2017 North Dakota Waterfowl Hunting Guide for further details on the waterfowl season. Paper copies will be at license vendors in early September.
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Duck Brood Numbers Down Slightly from Last Year
State Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is down 8 percent from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl production survey.
This year’s brood index came in at 3.68 broods per square mile, down 5 percent from last year. The statewide average since the survey began in 1955 is 2.59 broods per square mile. Overall brood size was up 8 percent from last year.
Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said production was better in the northern tier of the state, with northernmost routes experiencing increased counts over last year. "Moving south and east, fewer broods were observed than in 2016," he said.
Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year’s water index was 38 percent lower than last year. Due to drought conditions and sparse precipitation since snowmelt, Szymanski said summer wetland conditions are declining.
“It was already starting to dry up when we did our spring survey, and the pattern continued,” Szymanski added. “It definitely affected how breeding pairs settled in the state. Temporary and seasonal wetlands were the first to be hit. Luckily, most medium-sized and larger wetlands were only starting to show stress at the time of the survey.”
Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.
Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for nearly 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were down about 13 percent from last year, gadwalls were down about 4 percent, and blue-winged teal broods were unchanged. Blue-winged teal are typically the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota.
In addition, pintail brood numbers were down 65 percent. However, shovelers were up 44 percent.
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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2016 Early Canada Goose Harvest Again Tops 36,000
For the sixth consecutive year, North Dakota early Canada goose season hunters bagged more than 36,000 birds, according to a recent harvest estimate released by the state Game and Fish Department. This is the combined harvest from the August Canada goose management take, and the September Canada goose hunting season.
The 2017 early Canada goose season is tentatively slated to start on Aug. 15 again, with a similar structure as in recent years.
While the 2016 harvest is somewhat lower than the peak early season bag in recent years, Game and Fish migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski says it’s still a highly successful season in the department’s effort to reign in the state’s resident Canada goose population.
Szymanski estimates that approximately 3,600 residents and 1,000 nonresidents who actually hunted averaged about 10 birds apiece for the combined effort in August and September, which started Aug. 15 with a “management take.”
The regular early hunting season started Sept. 1 and ran through Sept. 7 in the Missouri River zone, and through Sept. 15 in the rest of the state. In total, that’s about 18 percent fewer hunters than participated in 2015, a fact that Szymanski attributes to extensive late summer movement of Canada geese, which made finding huntable numbers of birds difficult in many areas.
“This late summer waterfowl movement is something that seems to be more pronounced in recent years,” Szymanski said. “Birds that were produced in North Dakota are showing up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan by early September. We don’t know if it’s related to avoiding hunting pressure or availability of food, as there’s very little harvested small grain fields for feeding in some areas. It could even relate to the birds trying to find cooler temperatures during years when we seem to be warmer than normal in the state.”
Barnes and Ramsey counties had the highest numbers of birds harvested by resident hunters, while McIntosh and LaMoure counties had the highest number of Canada geese harvested by nonresident hunters.
The top 10 counties for total harvest were Ramsey, McIntosh, Kidder, Benson, Stutsman, Barnes, LaMoure, McHenry, Nelson and Ward. Ramsey County had more than 3,000 birds harvested, while the estimate for Ward County in 10th place was 1,207.
“We’re seeing a good harvest in the eastern half of the state where there seems to be the most conflicts between crop producers and geese during the summer,” Szymanski said. “We need to keep the pressure on to keep our locally breeding Canada goose population from growing any larger.”
It’s really important for landowners experiencing depredation issues to allow goose hunters on their property not only during the early season, Szymanski said, but also in October and November as birds that may have made late-summer movements come back through the state.
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Supreme court decision prompts GFP action on Non-Meandered Waters
PIERRE, S.D. - In compliance with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Duerre v. Hepler, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) is closing Department-managed boat launches on non-meandered bodies of water.
"Recreational access to non-meandered waters is a complex issue that has impacted our state for decades," said Kelly Hepler, GFP department secretary. "Under this Supreme Court decision, GFP cannot facilitate access to non-meandered waters for recreational purposes."
According to the Supreme Court, the South Dakota State Legislature must determine whether and how the public may use non-meandered waters for recreational purposes. GFP cannot facilitate access to these waters until the State Legislature acts.
To comply with the Supreme Court ruling, GFP is posting signage and limiting access to infrastructure at the following water bodies, with the potential of additional water bodies to be added:
- Caseys Slough, Cottonwood Lake GPA, Dry Lake #1, Dry Lake #2 and Swan Lake in Clark County;
- Deep Lake and Goose Lake in Codington County;
- East Krause Lake, Lynn Lake, Middle Lynn Lake and Reetz Lake in Day County;
- North Scatterwood Lake in Edmunds County;
- Three Buck Lake in Hamlin County;
- Bullhead Lake and Cattail-Kettle Lake in Marshall County;
- Keisz Lake in McPherson County;
- Grass Lake, Loss Lake, Scott Lake and Twin Lakes in Minnehaha County;
- Twin Lakes in Sanborn County;
- Cottonwood Lake and Mud Lake in Spink County; and
- Dog Ear Lake in Tripp County.
Public notice signs will be posted in these areas by the end of April.
In accordance with the Supreme Court ruling, the Department has halted fish stockings, creel surveys, canoe and kayak rentals, permitting of fishing tournaments and special events, and facilitating access for ice fishing for the listed water bodies.
For more information, visit http://gfp.sd.gov/fishing-boating/courtruling.aspx.
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New Law Moves Pheasant Opener to Oct. 7
A new law passed by the North Dakota Legislature will result in the State Game and Fish Department to propose Oct. 7 as opening day of the 2017 pheasant hunting season, one week earlier than what the department earlier announced.
Senate Bill 2318, signed into law March 14, requires North Dakota’s pheasant season to open no later than Oct. 12.
Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand said the new law means the pheasant hunting season will no longer always open on the second Saturday in October, which has been the case for more than 20 years.
With the regular pheasant season opening a week earlier, Game and Fish will propose that the youth pheasant hunting season also open earlier, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 7.
In addition, out-of-state hunters are reminded that state law does not allow nonresidents to hunt on Game and Fish owned or managed lands during the first week of pheasant season. Therefore, Private Land Open to Sportsmen acreage and state wildlife management areas are open to hunting by resident hunters only from Oct. 7-13. Nonresidents, however, can still hunt those days on other state-owned and federal lands, or private land.
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