BISMARCK, N.D. — There will be fewer birds about when North Dakota’s pheasant hunting season opens this weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be fewer hunters.

Weather plays a big role when it comes to turnout, particularly during the season’s first two days, according to state Game and Fish Department Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams.

“A good percentage of people hunt that opening weekend, and then they might not be out very many days after that,” he said.

The weather forecast is shaping up nicely. The National Weather Service said there’s a chance of snow showers in the northwest early Saturday, but otherwise no precipitation and seasonal temperatures possibly in the 70s on Sunday in southwest North Dakota, the prime pheasant hunting region.

More than 85,000 hunters took to the fields in search of pheasants last year, after bird numbers grew about 30 percent from 2014 due to a mild winter and a good nesting season. This year, pheasant numbers have dropped 10 percent due to a reduction in habitat and dry early spring conditions in the southwest, but that isn’t likely to hurt interest, according to Aaron Robinson, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish.

Bird population estimates “don’t completely correlate with what we find in the harvest,” he said. “A lot of factors play into that. Weather, for one thing.”

Poor weather during the season would impact not only the harvest but also the economy. Pheasant hunting is big business in North Dakota, with each hunter spending about $100 daily, according to state Tourism Division data.

Last year, pheasant hunters spent an average of 5.5 days in the field and killed 590,000 birds. Robinson and Williams expect another harvest around the half-million bird mark, an unofficial Game and Fish target for keeping the pheasant population at a manageable level.

“Shooting around 500,000 (birds) per year is going to be the norm with the amount of habitat we have on the landscape,” Williams said. “We still have a good pheasant population in North Dakota that gives people adequate recreational time.”

The season opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 8. Shooting hours are half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily limit is three and the possession limit is 12.

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