I was out of the office Monday and Tuesday, but I caught up with Stan Kohn, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s go-to guy on pheasants, Wednesday afternoon to see how this past weekend’s pheasant opener went.
As predicted, most hunters didn’t encounter the kind of stellar pheasant hunting they’ve come to expect the past several years, he said. Also, as predicted, southwest North Dakota served up the best pheasant reports.
“Real spotty” was Kohn’s assessment on the opener.
“We had some folks that — and probably more so in the southwest — indicated they did run into some pockets of fairly decent numbers, and they did OK, even though they kind of admitted numbers were down,” he said. “By and large, the numbers are down, and it took a little more effort to get the bag, and some parties never did.”
Kohn said he also heard some decent reports from central North Dakota, but the birds were found in localized pockets and not all hunters reported success.
“The southeast, I’ve heard some real disappointments down there that folks just weren’t seeing the numbers, and bags just weren’t reported in that area,” Kohn said. “South of Bismarck was pretty slow also. Folks were seeing a few birds but they weren’t finishing at 10 a.m. like they have been in the past years.”
Kohn said he hadn’t received any reports from the northwestern part of the state, but numbers going into the opener weren’t looking real strong.
Game and Fish estimated statewide pheasant numbers were down 36 percent from last year, while brood observations were down 38 percent. A third consecutive severe winter and a cold, wet spring, combined with loss of acreage in the federal Conservation Reserve Program were main reasons for the drop, Kohn said.
Despite the preseason reports, Kohn said he heard from game wardens across pheasant country that a “fair number” of hunters were out for the opener.
“I’m sure the number of hunting parties was similar to last year, but I’m sure the total bag was lower than what we’ve seen in the last few years,” Kohn said.
Based on preseason estimates, hunters could shoot about 400,000 pheasants this fall, similar to 2001 but less than half the 907,000 roosters taken in 2007. Hunters in North Dakota last year shot 552,800 pheasants.