BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota's pheasant population has increased by nearly one-third over the past year, thanks to a pleasant winter and favorable weather during the spring nesting season.
The estimated 30 percent increase in birds over 2014 mirrors increases in nearby states including South Dakota where the pheasant population is up about 42 percent. That could spread out hunting pressure, raising the prospects for an even more successful hunt this fall, state Game and Fish Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.
"It's nice when everybody is doing good," he said. "You don't necessarily concentrate the hunting pressure in a certain area, a certain state."
Pheasant hunting is big business in North Dakota. More than 50,000 hunters go after upland game including pheasants in a typical year, with each of them spending about $100 each day that they're in the field, according to state Tourism Division data.
"The increased count will inspire more nonresident hunters to make plans to visit North Dakota this hunting season," Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman said. "We see a consistent correlation between these counts and the licenses sold. With the nonresidents numbers in the 24,000-30,000 range, the visitor spending is in excess of $36 million."
Pheasant numbers are up significantly because many birds got through the mild winter healthy and successfully reproduced in the spring, according to Williams.
"The typical peak of the hatch in North Dakota is around the 15th of June," he said. "If you can get a period of time where you avoid some real cold days and lots of rainfall, you're generally going to have pretty good reproduction."
In the prime pheasant habitat of southwestern North Dakota, the late-summer survey by Game and Fish found bird numbers up 34 percent. In the southeast, the jump was estimated at 27 percent.
"Our late summer roadside counts indicate pheasant hunters are going to find more birds in the southern half of the state this fall, with the southwest having the strongest population of young roosters," said Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish.
Northeastern North Dakota is not considered a prime pheasant-hunting area because of a lack of good habitat. In the northwest, pheasants are down an estimated 18 percent from last year. The drop is not likely due to oil development in the region, Williams said.
"It's probably more weather-related during nesting season than anything," he said.
North Dakota's regular pheasant season opens Oct. 10 and continues through next Jan. 3. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents age 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is Oct. 3-4.