North Dakota's annual pheasant brood survey released Monday shows that total pheasants are up 10 percent from last year and broods have increased by 17 percent, which state Game and Fish Department officials call continued improvement after nearly bottoming out two years ago.
Wildlife officials say the numbers are particularly encouraging in the northwest, up 49 percent from 2018, and southeast, which saw a 32 percent increase. Upland game biologist RJ Gross says this was the first year "in a while" with good residual cover to start the year and good weather for nesting and brood-rearing.
"Two good years of chick production should translate to more birds for hunters to pursue," Gross said.
Gross said populations in the state's primary pheasant district and most popular hunting area, in southwestern North Dakota, are "slowly improving" although total birds were down 7 percent. Broods were up 2 percent from 2018.
The summary is based on 275 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across the state.
Neighboring states South Dakota and Minnesota, also known for banner pheasant hunting, each saw 17 percent drops in total pheasants from last year. Bad weather contributed to the decline in those two states. Drought and declining habitat led to North Dakota's drop-off in pheasants two years ago.
North Dakota has been rallying since the 2017 hunt that was the smallest harvest in 16 years, with 309,400 pheasants. That number went up to 327,000 roosters in 2018.
The 2019 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5.
The state Game and Fish Department announced Monday that numbers also were up for sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge. Grouse are up 113 percent statewide from 2018 and partridge have increased by 58 percent.
Jesse Kolar, upland game management supervisor, said the grouse numbers are still about 50 percent below 2012-15 levels. However, he said there have been slight increases in all metrics, especially in counties east of the Missouri River where the highest numbers of grouse were observed since 2013.