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2013 Hunting Outlook - Migratory Birds

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Migratory Birds

Ducks and Geese

Wetland conditions and waterfowl numbers remain good in North Dakota.

This is according to the Department’s 66th annual breeding duck survey, perhaps the longest running operational breeding waterfowl survey in the world, covering nearly 2,000 miles to assess spring wetland conditions and the number of waterfowl in the state.

While winter was fairly mild and snowfall was minimal, late winter and early spring snows and rains again restored pond conditions throughout much of the state. The 2013 water index was up 17 percent from 2012 and was 12 percent better than the 1948-2012 average. Also, wetland conditions improved significantly the week following the survey, when much of the state received significant rain.

Breeding duck numbers decreased from last year, but were still well above the 65-year average. Numbers of breeding ducks in 2013 were the 12th highest on record, but down 17 percent from 2012, which was the third highest index on record. The 2013 duck index was 73 percent above the long-term average.

Changes from 2012 for individual duck species were highly variable. Mallards were up 6 percent and were the fifth highest on record. Scaup increased 23 percent. Numbers of pintails (plus 2 percent), canvasbacks (plus 2 percent) and shovelers (minus 1 percent) were basically unchanged.

All other species were down from 2012, including green-winged teal (minus 56 percent), ruddy duck (minus 52 percent), blue-winged teal (minus 38 percent), redhead (minus 30 percent) and gadwall (minus 28 percent). Some of the declines are not surprising after last year’s record high for green-winged teal and near record high for blue-winged teal.

The large number of ducks tallied during the survey is consistent with the well-above-average populations North Dakota has carried since 1994, because of wet conditions and exceptional nesting cover provided by CRP. However, as CRP acres continue to decline across the state, biologists expect duck production will also decline.

The number of broods observed during the Department’s July brood survey was down 48 percent from 2012, but the average brood size was up .3 ducklings. July water conditions were up 60 percent from last year and were the eighth highest on record. However, there was considerable drying in much of the state since the survey.

In addition, because of a late spring, duck nesting was delayed in 2013. There are strong indications of an exceptional late hatch. We are predicting a fall flight of ducks from North Dakota this year similar to those of 2007-11.

Numbers of resident Canada geese, Western Prairie Canada geese and arctic nesting Tallgrass Prairie Canada geese, snow geese and Ross’s geese all remain high. Hunting opportunities for all these birds should again be good, but are highly dependent, as always, on fall weather conditions, especially for migrant birds.

Last fall, ducks and geese arrived early and stayed until nearly mid-November, providing one of the better hunting seasons in recent memory. Similar weather patterns this fall would help hunters to enjoy our abundant waterfowl populations.

Mike Johnson, Game Management Section Leader, Bismarck

Youth Waterfowl Season

(For legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger.)

Opens: Sept. 14

Closes: Sept. 15

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular seasons.

Canada Goose Seasons

Early Canada Goose Season

Opens: Aug. 15 (statewide)

Closes: Sept. 7 (Missouri River Zone), Sept. 15 (statewide)

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Daily Limit: 15

Possession Limit: 45

Canada Geese Regular Season

Opens: Sept. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)

Closes: Dec. 27 (Missouri River Zone), Dec. 21 (rest of state)

Daily Limit: 8 (5 in Missouri River Zone)

Possession Limit: 24 (15 in Missouri River Zone)


White-Fronted Geese (Statewide)

Opens: Sept. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)

Closes: Dec. 1

Daily Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 6

Light (Snow) Geese (Statewide)

Opens: Sept. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)

Closes: Dec. 29

Daily Limit: 50, no possession limit

Shooting Hours for all Geese: Half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 2. Starting Nov. 3, shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to 2 p.m. each day.

Exception: Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset on all Saturdays and Wednesdays through the end of each season. Starting Dec. 1, all-day hunting is also allowed on Sundays through the end of each season.

Duck Seasons

Regular Duck Season

Low Plains Unit

Opens: Sept. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)

Closes: Dec. 1

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

High Plains Unit

Opens: Sept. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)

Closes: Dec. 1

Opens: Dec. 7

Closes: Dec. 29

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Daily Limit: Six ducks, which may include no more than five mallards (two of which may be hens), two redheads, three wood ducks, two canvasbacks, two pintails, three scaup.

Possession Limit: 18 (including no more than three times the daily limit for each individual species).



Sandhill Cranes

Opens Zone 1: Sept. 14

Zone 2: Sept. 14

Closes Zone 1: Nov. 10

Zone 2: Nov. 10

Daily Limit Zone 1: 3

Zone 2: 2

Possession Limit Zone 1: 9

Zone 2: 6

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. daily through Nov. 2; to 2 p.m. Nov. 3-10.

The Mid-continent Sandhill Crane Population remains in good shape heading into the fall hunting season. The 2013 spring index will most likely hit a record high after survey numbers are finalized.

This year’s spring migration was later due to a late winter and frequent spring blizzards. As a result, many cranes remained in the Platte River Valley during the survey, providing what may be one of best assessments of this population’s status.

Staging areas are abundant, but some areas may still be flooded during fall from this spring’s wet weather. Overall, sandhill crane hunting opportunities should be good statewide this fall.

The two zone structure – Zone 1 west of U.S. Highway 281 and Zone 2 east of U.S. Highway 281 – for sandhill cranes will continue. This year the two zones will have the same season lengths (58 days) and dates, but will still have different bag limits. Zone 1 has a daily bag limit of three cranes; in Zone 2 the daily bag limit is two.


Another regulation change is an increase in possession limits to three times the daily bag limit, which means a possession limit of nine in Zone 1, and six in Zone 2.

Nonresidents can pursue sandhill cranes with either a nonresident small game or waterfowl license, in addition to a crane permit. Hunters using a nonresident waterfowl license are reminded that they are required to hunt only in the waterfowl zones designated on their license.

Hunters are also reminded to make sure of their target before shooting, as federally endangered whooping cranes may be present in North Dakota during the fall. Please report all whooping crane sightings to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck at (701) 328-6300.

Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Biologist, Bismarck

North Dakota had the third highest breeding population index in the country, based on the mourning dove call-count survey conducted in spring.


Opens: Sept. 1

Closes: Oct. 30

Daily Limit: 15

Possession Limit: 45

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.


The breeding population of mourning doves in North Dakota changes relatively little from year to year. That’s good since the state generally has a sizeable population of breeding doves.

Challenges for hunters in 2013 may relate to habitat conditions, and a smaller fall flight of doves that might result in difficulties finding concentrations of birds. A change to dove regulations this year is that the possession limit has increased from 30 to 45 birds.

Dove hunters should experience fair to good opportunities during the first two weeks of September. North Dakota had the third highest breeding population index in the country, based on the mourning dove call-count survey conducted in late May.

The wet, windy spring likely limited breeding success for doves at that time, but birds nesting later in the summer appear to have done well.

On the plus side, the wet spring will provide more watering holes. Also, many agricultural fields were left unplanted in parts of the state, and depending on individual circumstances, those fields may hold doves feeding in weedy areas.

Eurasian collared doves continue to expand throughout the state and are found in almost every small town and city. However, collared doves are not often found outside of municipalities and rarely show up in hunter harvests. Eurasian collared doves and white-winged doves, which are normally found in southern Texas, but have been expanding their range, are included with mourning doves in the daily bag limit of 15 birds.

Some dove hunters may by contacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to participate in a wing survey, which involves clipping one wing from each dove shot early in the season to send in for analysis.

Hunters are also reminded to take a look for banded mourning doves in their bag and report bands directly to the Bird Banding Laboratory at (800) 327-BAND (2263), or on the web at:

Mike Szymanski


Open Area: Statewide

Fall Season Opens: Aug. 10

Closes: Oct. 20

Spring Season Opens: March 8, 2014

Closes: April 20, 2014

Daily Limit: There is no limit on crows.

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

In addition to the crow season, crows may be taken when committing or about to commit depredations as specified in federal law (50CFR21.43)

Common snipe are fairly abundant during a North Dakota fall, but few hunters pursue them.


Open Area: Statewide

Opens: Sept. 14

Closes: Dec. 1

Daily Limit: 8

Possession Limit: 24

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.



Open Area: Statewide

Opens: Sept. 21

Closes: Nov. 4

Daily Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 9

Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.