While my college transcript might indicate otherwise, I’ve always enjoyed statistics. That’s about the most positive spin I can put on my appreciation for numbers while giving credit to the confusion some figures can portray.
Case in point: If you took the 2019 pheasant hunting statistics at face value, you might think the pheasant numbers were down. Our post-season survey showed about 50,000 pheasant hunters harvested 256,800 roosters (down 25%) in 2019, compared to 59,400 hunters and 342,600 roosters in 2018.
Jesse Kolar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game management supervisor, said the overall harvest was down despite slight increases in most population survey estimates.
“This was likely due to continued declines in hunter numbers and hunter days afield following lower population trends,” he said. “We also still have lower densities of upland game birds in areas that traditionally had much of the harvest – pheasant numbers were still low in the southwest and sharptail numbers remained low in the badlands.”
But numbers are just numbers, especially when you consider that some hunters only hunt the opening weekend of pheasant season and a number of those folks didn’t venture afield during last fall’s opener because of nasty weather. So, you need to factor that in.
On top of that, North Dakota experienced an extremely wet fall in 2019 and you could argue that pheasant numbers were maybe much better than actual hunter harvest would indicate.
It’s a long bridge I’m crossing to relate that this spring's pheasant index is a snapshot of roosters that came through winter. Fact is, North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up 15% from the same time last year.
R.J. Gross, Department upland game management biologist, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up statewide, with increases ranging from 1% to 18% in the primary regions holding pheasants.
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stop at predetermined intervals, and count the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a 2-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to the previous year’s data, providing a trend summary.
“We entered spring with a larger breeding population compared to last year,” he said. “Hens should be in good physical shape for nesting season and cover should be plentiful from the residual moisture left from last fall.”
However, Gross had concern with drought conditions in the western part of the state, and insect availability to chicks during brood rearing.
While the spring number is an indicator, Gross said it does not predict what the fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in late July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.