2017 Hunting Season Outlook

Authors and Contributors

Jeb Williams, Various




Most North Dakotans will remember 2017 as a time when drought returned to the state.

North Dakota is well known for wild weather swings, but the end of 2016, and so far into 2017, is about as weird as weather can get.

As a beautiful November ended last fall, December arrived with a mission, a seemingly singular focus to make things miserable for critters and citizens of the state.

For more than a month, the weather did indeed test the resiliency of anything living. But just when many conversations were taking shape in coffee shops across North Dakota that winter 2016-17 was going to wind up as the worst on record, it stopped snowing. Temperatures increased, and snow gradually started melting in late January. By March, much of the snow was gone, with most places hardly showing a puddle of proof that some areas received record snowfall in December.

Fast forward to spring where all we needed were good rains to get some surface moisture to match the subsoil moisture in most areas. It seemed like the stage was set for a good year. But the rain didn’t come. And when it did, it wasn’t enough.

So what does this crazy weather mean for the state’s wildlife? It’s not helpful. While it appears we were fairly fortunate that most wildlife survived winter, the next hurdle is getting through the dry conditions, which can be just as difficult.

The fallout is the lack of nesting, fawning and brood-rearing cover, fewer protein-rich insects needed by young, hungry upland birds the first month of life, and a lack of water in the form of both dew and surface water.

As an agency, Game and Fish is most concerned with managing specific areas to benefit wildlife and ensure the best possible hunting opportunities. However, the agency is also charged with maintaining areas with adequate habitat where hunters feel like they have a reasonable chance to harvest game. In short: wildlife production along with public recreation.

Through the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife management area system and its Private Land Open To Sportsmen program, those opportunities exist. And they will again this year. But in dry years, we also recognize the challenge that neighboring farmers and ranchers are experiencing and offer a bit more flexibility with our managed haying and grazing activities on some of these areas.

Understanding the gravity of the situation on the landscape, the Game and Fish Department, along with several other conservation organizations, signed a joint letter to the secretary of agriculture supporting early haying of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in the state.

Hunters should keep this in mind this fall when they visit a WMA or a PLOTS tract that has been hayed or grazed. While they may see a short-term loss in the public recreation aspect, these acres will likely see a long-term gain in the quality and diversity of habitat due to the manipulation of grass cover. In addition, maintaining good relations with farmers and ranchers is in our best interest to ensure hunting opportunities continue to exist on private property throughout the state.

This summer also accelerated the 2018 farm bill discussion and what citizens would like that bill to look like. Conservation groups and hunters have noticed the changes associated with the loss of 2 million acres of CRP grasslands from North Dakota’s landscape over the last 10 years.

Across the board, the majority of North Dakota game species have declined since the peak CRP year in 2007 when the state had more than 3 million acres enrolled. We are excited to participate in the discussion as we move closer to the 2018 farm bill and how it will influence North Dakota.

In the meantime, North Dakota’s fall hunting seasons are upon us. Many will argue that this is the finest time of year on the Northern Plains. Even with some expected challenges caused by uncontrollable weather the last several months, it’s an argument that remains difficult to dispute.

Jeb Williams is the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief.

PLOTS sign and hunter with dog

Upland and Small Game

--- Ring-necked Pheasants ---
Opens: Oct. 7
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

North Dakota’s run of below average winter snowfall came to an end in 2016-17. December greeted parts of the state with record snowfall and cold temperatures. January brought much of the same, but near the end of the month, both humans and wildlife got a much needed break.

The remainder of winter was mild in comparison, and the birds needed it. Pheasants were feeling the effects of the harsh winter weather and many birds would have died if not for the early warm-up.

Results of this spring’s crowing count survey showed lower numbers of breeding roosters throughout most of the state’s traditional pheasant range. The number of roosters heard calling was down anywhere from 6-10 percent.

While residual cover for nesting hens was average in spring, drought conditions and sparse precipitation since snowmelt likely hampered the production of insects, which are vital to chick survival.

As of this writing, biologists had not completed late-summer roadside brood counts, but preliminary numbers from early routes suggest that hunters will see fewer birds this fall compared to 2016. If that holds true through the end of the survey, a season similar to 2013 is anticipated, when hunters harvested roughly 447,000 roosters. In 2016, hunters bagged about 500,000 birds.

Some areas will no doubt have good production and other areas will likely have poor production, so hunters who want to find better hunting opportunities may need to move around.

Despite weather concerns and knowing that North Dakota continues to lose quality habitat, the state still supports good pheasant hunting opportunities.

Rodney Gross, Upland Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

Update: 09/11/2017 News Release - Game and Fish Summarizes Pheasant Brood Survey

North Dakota’s roadside pheasant survey conducted in late July and August indicates total birds and number of broods are down statewide from 2016.

R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the survey shows total pheasants observed per 100 miles are down 61 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were down 63 percent, while the average brood size was down 19 percent. The final summary is based on 279 survey runs made along 103 brood routes across North Dakota.

“Brood data suggests very poor production this spring when compared to 2016, which results in less young birds added to the fall population,” Gross said. “The majority of the state was in extreme drought conditions during critical times for pheasant chicks. This resulted in poor nesting/brood habitat and more than likely a less than ideal insect hatch.”

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 59 percent and broods observed down 60 percent from 2016. Observers counted eight broods and 68 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 4.3.

Results from the southeast show birds are down 60 percent from last year, and the number of broods down 70 percent. Observers counted two broods and 24 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 4.7.

Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are down 72 percent from last year, with broods are down 76 percent. Observers recorded three broods and 24 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.2.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat, with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed one brood and six birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 3.5. Number of birds observed was down 54 percent, and the number of broods recorded was down 63 percent.

The 2017 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 7 and continues through Jan. 7, 2018. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

--- Wild Turkeys ---
Opens: Oct. 14
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The turkey population in many of the state’s hunting units is lower the past few years because of cool, wet spring conditions during nesting/brooding. Turkey production last spring was not good, so fall numbers were still relatively low. Also, severe drought may have had a negative influence on survival of young birds this year.

Consequently, Game and Fish has continued to reduce fall turkey licenses since 2008 to try to turn turkey numbers around and improve hunter success. Last fall, 2,361 hunters harvested 929 birds for a success rate of 39 percent.

The best hunting success was in the central part of the state. The western part, particularly in the badlands, is expected to provide some of the better turkey hunting opportunities this fall.

Rodney Gross

--- Ruffed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Ruffed grouse are an often-ignored upland bird in North Dakota that offer a challenge to hunters willing to take a hike in the woods.Ruffed grouse are primarily found in the native aspen woodlands of Rolette, Bottineau, Pembina, Walsh, Cavalier and portions of McHenry counties. Census data from heavily forested states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, indicate ruffed grouse numbers cycle about every 8-10 years. This was observed many years ago in North Dakota, but because of limited and fragmented acreage of native woodlands and low numbers of ruffed grouse, population cycles are seldom seen today.

But the good news for 2017 is that spring drumming counts were up 65 percent in the Turtle Mountains and good numbers of broods were being reported in the Pembina Hills. Granted, North Dakota’s ruffed grouse population may still be low compared to states to the east, but with good production, an improved population this fall in both the northeast and north central parts of the state is a possibility.

For ruffed grouse in particular, habitat is the key. A good mixture of young and old aspen trees, with a thick shrub understory of beaked hazel, will improve nesting success and brood survival.

Ruffed grouse hunting nearly ends each year when snow blankets the forest. That can be early in North Dakota, and frequently a couple of months of the season may be left with virtually no one hunting these superb birds. Regardless of their population status, many hunters do not consider their hunting season complete without at least one trip to the grouse woods in fall.

Rodney Gross

--- Sharp-tailed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Sharptail populations respond either negatively or positively to certain weather conditions. There is typically a happy medium between too wet/cold and too hot/dry. If the scale is tipped too far on either end of the spectrum, negative results occur.

This year the state likely had poor grouse production as a result of hot and dry summer weather, which reduced habitat conditions and insect production.

The central and northeastern parts of the state may have fared a bit better, but we’ll know more after summer roadside counts are completed. Some localized areas will likely have good chick survival, so hunters who are willing to travel can still find good hunting opportunities.

Additionally, Game and Fish asks all sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge hunters to send in wings from harvested birds to help biologists analyze production for 2017. Wing envelopes can be requested online.

Rodney Gross

--- Hungarian Partridge ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Hungarian partridge were plentiful in North Dakota, but as weather cycles shifted from dry to predominately wet, partridge populations responded negatively.

While the state’s Hun population has increased in the last five years, hunters this fall will likely see fewer birds compared to last year due to drought conditions. However, biologists have observed some good-sized partridge broods this year compared to last summer.

Partridge have become a bonus bird for hunters pursuing sharp-tailed grouse or pheasants, so keep an eye out for areas such as abandoned farmsteads and native prairie on the edge of small grain crops. Pockets of decent hunting may be found in these areas, but hunters will need to spend some time in the mornings scouting.

Rodney Gross

--- Tree Squirrels ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Daily Limit: 4
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Tree squirrels may be taken statewide with firearms loaded with shot, rimfire rifles, or with bows and arrows legal for taking upland game.


Big Game

--- White-tailed Deer ---
Archery Opens: Sept. 1
Archery Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 10
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 26
Muzzleloader Opens: Dec. 1
Muzzleloader Closes: Dec. 17

Game and Fish made 54,500 licenses available to deer gun hunters for 2017, 5,500 more than 2016.

The statewide hunter success rate in 2016 was 66 percent, about the same as 2015 (68 percent), but below the Department goal of 70 percent.

With heavy snow in December, Game and Fish biologists flew winter aerial surveys in 26 of 32 hunting units, the most units biologists have surveyed from the air in more than a decade.

Winter 2016-17 was a mixed bag. Conditions in the southeastern and southwestern portions of the state were moderate, while the north central portion dealt with severe conditions. Luckily, February and March brought moderating temperatures and little additional snow.

Based on comparisons with past aerial surveys, deer numbers along the Missouri River and Coteau units were higher than 2013, whereas the number of deer counted in the Turtle Mountains was down. About the same number of deer were observed on the Slope, Devils Lake, upper Red River Valley and Pembina Hills as in 2013. Winter aerial surveys were not conducted in the Sheyenne, James and southern Red River Valley due to inadequate snow cover.

Landowners interested in having more antlerless deer harvested are encouraged to call Game and Fish at 701-328-6300, and Department personnel will direct the number of doe hunters landowners are comfortable hosting.

A summary of white-tailed deer licenses for 2017:

  • Any-antlered licenses increased by 1,450.
  • Any-antlerless licenses increased by 1,750.
  • Antlered white-tailed deer licenses increased by 550.
  • Antlerless white-tailed deer licenses increased by 950.
  • 1,022 muzzleloader licenses available in 2017 – 511 antlered white-tailed deer licenses and 511 antlerless white-tailed deer licenses. This is an increase of 94 muzzleloader licenses from 2016.
  • 245 “I” licenses available for the youth deer hunting season, up 20 licenses from 2016. The licenses are limited in number for units 3B1, 3B2 and 4A-4F, and are valid for any deer, except antlerless mule deer in unit 4A. There are unlimited “H” youth deer licenses valid for any deer statewide, except mule deer in the above restricted units.
  • 382 nonresident any-deer archery licenses available for 2017, 101 more than 2016. The number of nonresident any-deer archery licenses will increase to 502 in 2018.

Bill Jensen, Big Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Mule Deer ---
Archery Opens: Sept. 1
Archery Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 10
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 26

Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to show signs of recovery following the severe winters of 2009-11, which reduced deer numbers by nearly 50 percent from 2007.

For the fifth consecutive year, the spring mule deer index was higher than the previous year. The 2017 spring index was 16 percent higher than 2016, and 58 percent higher than the long-term average.

The mule deer population increase is attributed to no harvest of antlerless mule deer in the badlands during the 2012-16 hunting seasons, moderate winter conditions and improved fawn production in 2013-16. Fawn production in 2016 was good and indicative of a growing population, with a fawn-to-doe ratio of 90 fawns per 100 does.

An increasing mule deer population will mean more hunting opportunities this fall. There were 2,450 antlered mule deer licenses available in 2017, an increase of 200 from 2016. Antlerless mule deer licenses also increased from 600 to 900 in 2017. All mule deer units will have antlerless licenses except 4A, where the population remains below the management goal.

A mule deer buck license remains one of the more difficult to draw in the lottery. Those lucky enough to draw a license should expect a high quality hunt similar to last year, when hunter success for mule deer buck hunters was 80 percent.

Bruce Stillings, Big Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Pronghorn ---
Archery Only Opens: Sept. 1
Archery Only Closes: Sept. 24
Gun/Archery Season Opens: Oct. 6
Gun/Archery Season Closes: Oct. 22

The state’s pronghorn population took a small step back in 2017, following severe early winter weather conditions, combined with extreme widespread drought in summer.

Pronghorn were slowly recovering following the severe winters of 2009-11, after which pronghorn numbers had declined by 75 percent.

This summer, biologists conducted aerial surveys in late June and early July and found the number of pronghorn in the state was 14 percent lower than last year. Although overall numbers were down, it was a good reproductive year, resulting in the highest fawn-to-doe ratio since 2002.

Game and Fish will maintain a conservative harvest strategy to provide hunting opportunities, while encouraging population growth. In 2017, 410 licenses were allocated, 320 fewer than 2016. Units 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A and 4C are open to hunting this fall, but the number of licenses in each hunting unit was reduced.

Hunters who drew a lottery license can use it during the archery season from September 1-24, or during the rifle season from October 6-22, using legal firearms or archery equipment.

Another moderate winter, with average fawn production, may provide conditions needed for pronghorn population growth to support additional hunting opportunities in 2018.

Last year’s limited season was successful, with 716 hunters harvesting 523 pronghorn, for a success rate of 73 percent. The harvest consisted of 482 adult bucks, 17 does and 24 fawns. Hunters should expect similar success this year.

Bruce Stillings

--- Bighorn Sheep ---

Season Details

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled for 2017. The status of that season will be determined in early September after the summer population survey is completed.

The Department’s spring sheep survey revealed a minimum of 296 bighorns in western North Dakota, up slightly from last year and 3 percent above the five-year average.

Biologists counted 104 rams, 170 ewes and 22 lambs. Not included are approximately 20 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The survey revealed both good and bad news after a sheep die-off that began in 2014. This year’s count of adult bighorns was encouraging, given the ongoing effects of bacterial pneumonia throughout most of the badlands, but the lamb count was discouraging.

The northern badlands population, which was hit the hardest from the die-off, increased 2 percent from last year. However, the southern badlands population was down 3 percent.

The total count of adult rams and ewes was the highest on record. However, the total count, recruitment rate and winter survival rate for lambs were all the lowest on record. The recruitment rate of lambs per adult ewes was 15 percent, well below the long-term average.

One year isn’t necessarily a trend, but poor lamb survival is typical in populations exposed to Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, the pathogen responsible for most die-offs of bighorn sheep, and those effects can last many years.

Adult mortality was low in 2016, and a good number of lambs survived in 2014 and 2015 to compensate for most of the adult losses in 2014. However, many bighorns are still showing signs of pneumonia, and with the poor lamb recruitment, next year’s survey will be important in determining if the state’s population continues to recover from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline.

Game and Fish issued eight licenses in 2016 and all hunters were successful harvesting a ram.

Brett Wiedmann, Big Game Management Biologist, Dickinson

--- Moose ---

Season Details

The 2017 moose season features another record number of once-in-a-lifetime licenses. The increase in license numbers is primarily in the northwest region of the state, in moose management units M9 and M10, with additional any-moose and antlerless licenses.

Moose continue to thrive in northwestern North Dakota, but numbers remain low in historical hunting units in the Turtle Mountains, Pembina Hills and along the Red River corridor. Moose unit M1C, located in the Pembina Hills region, has been closed since 2006 and will remain closed this year. Moose unit M4, which encompasses the Turtle Mountains, was closed in 2013 and will also remain closed this fall.

For 2017 moose unit M10 was split into two units. Unit M10 is now north of U.S. Highway 2 and unit M11 is south of U.S. Highway 2.

The regular moose season is now standardized statewide and runs from October 13 through November 5. Previously, moose units M5 and M6 had a later regular season opening date.

The Department continues to monitor moose that die from nonhunting related reasons to determine any effects of disease, and to gain a better understanding of cause-specific mortality. Field work for a three-year research study for moose in the Kenmare area and the Missouri River bottoms southeast of Williston is completed and has moved on to analysis of collected data. The focus of the research is on annual survival, cause-specific mortality, reproduction rates, annual and seasonal movements and home range use, as well as seasonal habitat selection for adult cow moose.

Game and Fish issued 245 licenses for 2017. This is an increase from 200 licenses in 2016. Expectations for the season are high, as hunter success for moose historically runs above 90 percent.

Jason Smith, Big Game Management Biologist, Jamestown

--- Elk ---

Season Details

North Dakota’s 2017 elk season features 387 licenses, which is an increase from 2016.

The season also includes a couple of format changes. Elk unit E1 was split west and east by ND Highway 20 to focus management and better direct harvest on the two separate elk herds in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills. Elk unit E1W will be west of ND Highway 20 and elk unit E1E will be east of ND Highway 20.

Unit E1W has 15 any-elk and 25 antlerless licenses, while unit E1E has 20 any-elk and 50 antlerless licenses.

Elk license numbers in southwestern North Dakota increased to 130 this season for units E3 and E4. The elk population in unit E2 is stable, with 50 any-elk and 90 antlerless licenses issued, the same as 2016.

Another change for this season is establishment of unit E6, a new unit that encompasses all land east of ND Highway 31 in Sioux County. This unit was created in an effort to manage the growing elk herd in the Porcupine Hills. The Game and Fish Department is coordinating this effort along with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and private landowners within the unit. Seven licenses were allocated in unit E6, two for any elk and five for antlerless elk.

Jason Smith

Light goose flock taking off from field

Migratory Birds

--- Ducks and Geese ---

Good wetland conditions and high waterfowl numbers were found again during the Game and Fish Department’s 2017 annual spring breeding duck survey.

In its 70th year, this is 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.

Although winter started off with a lot of snow, late winter and spring conditions were mild and generally dry, with below average precipitation in many areas. Waterfowl habitats were drying up as spring progressed, and unlike the previous two years, there wasn’t much late spring rain to replenish wetlands.

The 2017 May water index was the 30th highest on record, up 78 percent from 2016, and 8 percent above the 1948-2016 average. Unfortunately, the count was deceivingly high as many wetlands were in a drying phase and probably weren’t around long after the survey.

This year’s breeding duck index was the 24th highest on record, down 15 percent from last year, and 23 percent above the long-term average. This is the first year since 1994 that the state’s estimated breeding population of ducks (2.95 million) dropped below 3 million birds.

All species, except canvasbacks (up 23 percent), pintails (up 5 percent), redheads (up 2 percent) and northern shoveler (unchanged), had lower numbers than observed in 2016. Mallards were down 5 percent from 2016 for their 20th highest count on record. Wigeon and ruddy ducks declined 16 and 36 percent, respectively, while all other species declined from 20 percent (green-winged teal) to 28 percent (gadwall).

Although most species declined from last year, all species, except pintail (down 24 percent), blue-winged teal (down 6 percent), and ruddy ducks (down 4 percent) are above the long-term average, including redheads (up 73 percent), mallards (up 67 percent), wigeon (up 48 percent), scaup (up 33 percent), gadwall (up 32 percent), shovelers (up 30 percent) and canvasbacks (up 16 percent).

Duck numbers in North Dakota have remained high since 1994 because of exceptional water conditions and abundant nesting cover provided by CRP. However, as CRP acres and native grasslands continue to decline across the state, biologists expect duck production to decline.

The brood index observed during the Department’s July brood survey was down 5 percent from 2016, and 30 percent above the 1965-2016 average. The average brood size was 6.82 ducklings, up 0.5 ducklings.

July wetland counts were down 38 percent from 2016, and 16 percent below the long-term average. Wetland conditions were variable across the state, with most areas receiving little spring and summer rainfall, but some localized areas did receive average total precipitation from heavy rains. Areas farther east and north also appear to have benefitted from more persistent precipitation.

It appears brood rearing wetlands were in good enough condition going into the dry spell to provide habitat for breeding ducks and young. While shallow wetlands mostly dried, medium-sized and larger wetlands provided brood rearing habitat in summer.

It’s predicted that a fall flight of ducks from North Dakota this year will be down about 8 percent from last year and similar to 2008.

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.

North Dakota’s waterfowl hunting seasons, like last year’s, can be negatively affected by mild fall weather. Ducks and geese, especially mallards and snow geese, arrived late in the season, and moved through the state in a matter of days. Hunting opportunities for ducks and geese will likely be highly variable across different regions of the state.

Prospects for a good fall flight from northern breeding areas should be good, but as always, weather conditions and migration patterns will dictate waterfowl hunting opportunities come fall.

Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor, Bismarck

--- Youth Waterfowl Season --- ---
(For legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger.)
Opens: Sept. 16
Closes: Sept. 17
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular season.

--- Early Canada Goose Season ---
Opens: Aug. 15 (statewide)
Closes: Sept. 7 (Missouri River zone), Sept. 15 (statewide)
Daily Limit: 15
Possession Limit: 45
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Canada Geese Regular Season ---
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 29 (Missouri River zone), Dec. 21 (statewide)
Daily Limit: 5 (Missouri River zone), 8 (rest of state)
Possession Limit: 15 (Missouri River zone), 24 (rest of state)

--- White-fronted Geese (Statewide) ---
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

--- Light (Snow) Geese (Statewide) ---
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 31
Daily Limit: 50, no possession limit
Shooting Hours for all Geese: Half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 4. Starting Nov. 5, 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 Nov. 23, all-day hunting is also allowed on Sundays through the end of each season.

--- Regular Duck Season ---
Low Plains Unit
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
High Plains Unit
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Opens: Dec. 9
Closes: Dec. 31
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), one pintail, two redheads, two canvasbacks, three scaup, and three wood ducks. In addition to the daily bag limit of ducks, hunters may take an additional two blue-winged teal from Sept. 23 through Oct. 8.
Possession Limit: Three times the daily limit.

--- Sandhill Cranes ---
Open Zone 1 and 2: Sept. 16
Closes Zone 1 and 2: Nov. 12
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.4; to 2 p.m. Nov. 5 until end of season.

The Mid-Continent Sandhill Crane Population is in good shape heading into fall. Spring migration occurred early this year due to temperatures rising quickly in the northern Great Plains after a cold and snowy winter.

With the onslaught of warmer weather, biologists decided to move the spring survey up by nearly a week, which occurs annually in the central Platte River Valley of Nebraska. Although spring survey numbers were not finalized at the time of this writing, initial reports from the survey crews are promising, plus the three-year population index used for guiding hunting season regulations has been stable to slightly increasing for several years.

Drier conditions this fall should lead to abundant staging areas throughout the state, with receding water levels within permanent wetlands providing more open shorelines suitable for roosting cranes.

The two zone – Zone 1 west of U.S. Highway 281 and Zone 2 east of U.S. Highway 281 – structure for sandhill cranes continues. The two zones will have the same season lengths (58 days) and dates, but will continue to have different bag limits.

Nonresident hunters 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, as federally endangered whooping cranes may be present throughout North Dakota during fall. Report all whooping crane sightings to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck at 701-328-6300.

Andrew Dinges, Migratory Game Bird Biologist, Bismarck

--- Doves ---
Opens: Sept. 1
Closes: Nov. 29
Daily Limit: 15
Possession Limit: 45
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

North Dakota has a sizeable population of breeding mourning doves. Based on casual observation, production in the state was good to fair this year. The relatively early spring and dry summer allowed birds to nest early and often.

Age ratios of juvenile to adult birds captured at banding stations throughout the state is also indicative of good production this year.

Dove hunters should experience good opportunities in early September before cooler temperatures push doves south. Hunters are encouraged to scout before the season to find the right mix of conditions conducive to concentrating birds.

Hunters should look for areas with abundant harvested small grain or oil-seed fields that are also near shelterbelts or other diverse stands of trees. Doves also need to be within a few miles of water sources. Early harvest of small grains and oil-seed crops is projected, so hunters should have plenty of places to choose from.

Eurasian collared doves continue to expand throughout the state and are found in almost every city and small town. However, these birds are not often found outside of municipalities and rarely show up in hunter harvests. Eurasian collared doves and white-wing doves, which are typically found in southern Texas, but have expanded their range, are included with mourning doves in the dove bag limit of 15 birds per day and 45 in possession.

Some dove hunters may be 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 look for banded mourning doves in their bag and report bands directly to the Bird Banding Laboratory website at

Andrew Dinges

--- Crows ---
Fall Season Opens: Aug. 19
Closes: Nov. 6
Spring Season Opens: March 10
Closes: April 22
Daily Limit: No limit on crows. In addition to the crow season, crows may be taken when committing or about to depredate as specified in federal law.
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Snipe ---
Opens: Sept. 16
Closes: Dec. 3
Daily Limit: 8
Possession Limit: 24
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Woodcock ---
Opens: Sept. 23
Closes: Nov. 6
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.



For more season details, refer to the 2017-18 furbearer hunting and trapping guide.

After nearly a century with a closed season, trappers in North Dakota will once again have a limited opportunity to harvest a river otter.

River otters are native to North Dakota, but their numbers declined and the season has been closed since 1919. Although river otters were not abundant in the state historically, they have recolonized most areas where they were known to occur. This recolonization is the result of otters in Minnesota expanding westward.

Typically, coyotes are the most sought after furbearer in North Dakota because of their valuable pelts, widespread distribution and challenging pursuit. Historically, coyotes were most prevalent in western North Dakota, but over the last 10 years their numbers have increased in eastern North Dakota as well.

This year, however, coyote numbers are trending downward in all regions of the state after nearly a decade of some of the highest numbers on record. A result of fewer animals on the landscape is an opportunity for red fox to rebound slightly, as coyotes typically suppress fox numbers, both directly through predation and indirectly through competition for space and food. Therefore, it is not surprising that surveys indicate fox numbers are up slightly in the eastern half of the state.

Muskrats, another highly desirable furbearer, are also down in all regions of the state. In contrast, spring surveys indicate an increase in beavers, mink and weasels throughout several regions. And although badger, raccoon and skunk numbers are up slightly in some regions compared to last year, these species remain well below their long-term averages statewide.

Trappers harvested 25 fishers last season, which was seven less than the previous season. The framework for the 2017 fisher season is the same as last year.

Trappers and hunters harvested 24 bobcats last season, which was similar to the previous year, but 61 percent below the 20-year average.

The hunting season for mountain lions is similar to last season, and hunters should check the status of the harvest limit on the Game and Fish Department’s website before going afield. Last year, hunters took 10 mountain lions in Zone 1, three in the early season and seven in the late season.

Stephanie Tucker, Game Management Section Leader, Bismarck

--- Mountain Lion Hunting ---
Zone 1 (early) Opens: Sept. 1
Closes: Nov. 26
Zone 1 (late) Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 31, 2018
Zone 2 Opens: Sept. 1
Closes: March 31, 2018

The overall harvest limit on mountain lions in Zone 1 is once again 15, with an early season limit of eight, and a late season limit of seven (or three females, whichever comes first). If the early season ends before eight mountain lions are taken, a conditional season could reopen after the late season, if the late season limit is reached prior to March 25.

There is no mountain lion harvest limit in Zone 2.

Mountain lions may be hunted statewide by residents using legal firearms or archery equipment during regular hunting hours. Beginning Nov. 27, mountain lions may also be hunted by pursuing with dogs. Cable devices and traps are not allowed. The limit is one lion per hunter per season. Kittens (lions with visible spots), or females accompanied by kittens, may not be taken. Any lion taken must be reported to the Department within 12 hours and the entire intact animal must be submitted for analysis and tagging. Legally taken animals will be returned to the hunter.

--- River Otter Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2018

Limit of one per person. Total harvest limit of 15 statewide.

Trappers must contact the local game warden or Department field office to report their harvest within 12 hours and make arrangements to have their river otter tagged. For more information, see the 2017-18 North Dakota furbearer hunting and trapping guide.

--- Fisher Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: Dec. 3

Only open east of U.S. Highway 281 and ND Highway 4. Limit one per person. Trappers must contact the local game warden or Department field office to report their harvest within 12 hours and make arrangements to have their fisher tagged. For more information, see the 2017-18 furbearer hunting and trapping guide.

--- Beaver and Raccoon Hunting, Trapping or Underwater Cable Devices ---
Open: Year-round.

Furbearer Hunting and Trapping Guide

--- Beaver and Raccoon Cable Devices on Land ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: May 10, 2018

From March 16, 2018, through May 10, 2018, cable devices must be within 50 feet of water; they must be no more than 4 inches off the ground and must have a stop restricting loop size to 12 inches or less in diameter.

Beaver dams may be dismantled when their presence causes property damage.

--- Weasel Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Trapping Opens: Oct. 28
Hunting and Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2018

Weasels may be hunted statewide with .22 caliber or smaller rimfire rifles or pistols, muzzleloaders of .45 caliber or smaller, longbows and crossbows.

--- Muskrat and Mink Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Trapping Opens: Oct. 28
Hunting and Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: May 10, 2018

Muskrat huts may be opened for insertion of traps or cable devices; however, the huts must be restored to their approximate original condition to prevent freeze-up.

Beginning March 16, 2018, colony traps must be under at least 2 inches of water, and trapping or using cable devices on the outside of any muskrat house or structure of any size is prohibited; traps may be placed completely inside a muskrat house or structure of any size, except when used on float sets; foothold traps must be submerged under water at all times or must have a protective covering; body-gripping traps used in water can have no more than 2 inches of the trap above the water or must have a protective covering.

Beginning May 1, 2018, float sets must have a protective covering.

Mink and muskrat may be hunted statewide with .22 caliber or smaller rimfire rifles or pistols, muzzleloaders of .45 caliber or smaller, longbows and crossbows.

--- Bobcat Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Hunting and Trapping Opens: Nov. 11
Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2018

Open only in the area south and west of the Missouri River. Beginning Nov. 27, bobcats may also be hunted by pursuing with dogs.

The pelt and carcass of each bobcat must be presented to Department personnel for inspection and tagging prior to sale or transfer of possession, but no later than 14 days after the close of the season.

Furbearer Hunting and Trapping Guide

--- Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote and Badger Hunting or Hunting and Trapping ---
Open: Year-round.

In addition, red fox, gray fox and coyote may be hunted at any hour from Nov. 27 through March 15, 2018. Any hunter who engages in the hunting of red fox, gray fox or coyote during the time from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise, must hunt exclusively on foot.

Hunters can use night vision and thermal imaging equipment during this portion of the season.

--- Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote and Badger Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2018