Ducks flying

2018 Hunting Season Outlook

Authors and Contributors




A year ago, and for good reason, talk centered mostly on the return of drought conditions to North Dakota.

While the spigot seemed to turn on a bit in August, it was too late for much of the state’s small grains and pastures. The lack of precipitation early in spring and summer left its mark. It was pretty clear what the dry conditions meant for agriculture producers, yet the uncertainty was the influence drought would have on North Dakota’s most popular upland game bird, the ring-necked pheasant.

Typically, pheasants do better with warmer, drier conditions versus cooler, wetter conditions during the hatch, which peaks around the third week of June. But the warm and dry in 2017 was a bit extreme.

When the Game and Fish Department’s 2017 upland game survey numbers started rolling in, it was clear there were few young-of-the-year birds on the landscape. This certainly painted an unfortunate picture, as the majority of pheasants harvested each season are those that hatched earlier in summer.

When last fall’s pheasant season was all said and done, hunters harvested roughly 300,000 roosters, the lowest tally since 1998. While drought conditions undoubtedly impacted the pheasant population, a reduction in this nonnative’s numbers has long been influenced by the state’s changing landscape.

During North Dakota’s peak Conservation Reserve Program years, approximately 3.5 million acres of idle grasses carpeted the state. Today, that once robust figure is closer to 1 million acres.

There are far fewer places today on the landscape for pheasants to successfully nest and raise a brood. With a new farm bill being discussed, there is some hope that North Dakota will see some additional opportunities for landowners willing to enroll some acres into CRP. At this time it doesn’t appear to be a significant increase, although every bit will help.

The Game and Fish Department’s “Life After CRP” publication was developed by several visionary wildlife professionals, both inside and outside of our agency in 2012, as they could see the projected CRP cuts and the likely fallout of losing quality wildlife habitat. The goal of the publication was to discuss and promote the use of these once CRP acres to identify and provide guidance toward managing for profitable agriculture, while maintaining at least some benefits for pheasants and other wildlife.

Enter Precision Agriculture. An original partnership between Pheasants Forever and AgSolver, the goal of the program is to work with agriculture producers to maximize profitable acres, while identifying less profitable acres that may be better suited to conservation programs.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife managers recognized the need to partner with Pheasants Forever to utilize the strategic nature of the Precision Agriculture program, which helps much more than just pheasants.

The Department and others, including four soil conservation districts in Ransom, Sargent, Dickey and LaMoure counties, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust and the state Department of Health’s 319 watershed program, started working with Pheasants Forever in 2017.

Working directly with private landowners, more than 34,000 acres have been evaluated under the program. Game and Fish has also provided $131,000 in cost-share with landowners, the soil conservation districts have contributed $43,000 in matching funds, and approximately 1,200 Private Land Open To Sportsmen acres have been impacted in this four-county area.

The program has been successful enough that it will be expanding into southwestern North Dakota this fall. We anticipate the program will generate a lot of interest and continue to play a role in a more strategic effort in putting habitat on the landscape to continue our great hunting traditions in North Dakota.

Safe travels and best of luck this fall while you enjoy North Dakota’s outdoors.

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

Hunters with dog

Upland and Small Game

--- Ring-necked Pheasants ---
Opens: Oct. 6
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Pheasants in North Dakota were treated with below average snowfall and above average temperatures for most of last winter. This should have translated into good body conditions for the hens going into the nesting season.

Results of the spring crowing count survey showed lower numbers of breeding roosters throughout most of the traditional pheasant range. The number of roosters heard calling was down anywhere from 15-38 percent throughout North Dakota’s good pheasant range. This was not a surprise, as last summer’s drought caused a 60 percent decline in the late summer roadside counts.

Nesting cover for hens was about average in spring thanks to timely spring rains. Those timely rains continued into early summer and all of North Dakota was green through late June. Areas in the southwestern part of the state have had multiple severe weather events, which will likely translate to pockets of low densities of pheasants due to chick mortality.

At the time of this writing, Game and Fish Department biologists are conducting late summer roadside brood counts, but preliminary numbers indicate hunters will see a comparable number of birds this fall as 2017.

The drought last year caused poor production across the state. Thus, pheasants entered the 2018 breeding season with a lower than average adult breeding population. However, most of the state should have good production, while other areas could have poor survival due to severe weather events.

Those hunters willing to be a little more mobile this fall should find some good pheasant hunting opportunities.

Rodney Gross, Upland Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Wild Turkeys ---
Opens: Oct. 13
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The turkey population in many of the state’s hunting units was lower than normal the past few years due to cool, wet spring conditions during nesting/brooding.

In 2017, severe drought contributed to poor reproduction in a smaller breeding population, so fall turkey numbers were still relatively low in most areas of the state. In spring 2018, conditions were favorable for a better hatch. Early reports from brood surveys indicate a good number of turkey broods on the ground, and a small uptick in turkey production compared to 2017 is expected.

Game and Fish has continued to reduce fall licenses for wild turkeys since 2008 to try to turn turkey numbers around and improve hunter success. Last fall, 2,441 hunters harvested 939 birds for a success rate of 39 percent. Hunters had the best success in the western part of the state.

The central and west-central parts of the state along the river corridors will provide some of the better turkey hunting opportunities in the state this fall.

Rodney Gross

--- Ruffed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 8
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Although not common in North Dakota, ruffed grouse populations occur in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills. They are typically found in aspen forests with multi-aged stands of trees.

In 2018, spring drumming counts increased for the fourth year in a row. North Dakota’s ruffed grouse population continues to be lower than it was in the 1990s, but the hope is that recent increases continue.

Ruffed grouse require a diversity of aspen age classes to meet their seasonal habitat needs. Quaking aspen stands change as they mature from young, “doghair” (or very dense) stands of shoots to thinner stands of large trees. During that progression, the understory also changes, and by the mature stage, the understory flourishes with gaps in the canopy due to aging (and dying) trees.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the North Dakota Forest Service have teamed to work on aspen management in small blocks to create a mosaic of multi-aged aspen stands to benefit the aspen forests and species like ruffed grouse. If hunters observe areas on state lands that appear logged, it is likely that these areas are part of management that is intended to improve aspen productivity in the long-term. Hopefully, hunters will also see the ruffed grouse population respond to these management actions.

Jesse Kolar, Upland Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Sharp-tailed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 8
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Sharp-tailed grouse are typically most abundant in the western half of the state. Unfortunately, drought in 2017 was most severe in the west, and hunter reports, as well as Game and Fish Department spring surveys indicated that sharptail numbers are as low as they have been in 20 years.

With that said, hunters can still find pockets with sharptails, particularly in the eastern part of the state, which showed a slight increase since 2017. Hunters who head east should be aware of two areas closed to sharptail hunting: an area west of Grand Forks and an area around the Sheyenne National Grasslands. (Maps of areas closed to sharptail hunting are found in the North Dakota 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide and on the Department’s website at

Anecdotally, brood sizes were slightly larger for sharp-tailed grouse in 2018, so barring a harsh winter, an upcycle in sharptail numbers could be in the works. A better estimate of 2018 production will be available after summer roadside surveys are completed, but for now, biologists anticipate that hunters will likely need to walk more and perhaps learn new areas to find grouse this fall.

In addition to roadside surveys, hunters are encouraged to send in grouse and Hungarian partridge wings from harvested birds to help biologists further assess production for 2018. Since it’s predicted harvest will be low, it’s hoped that hunters who might not have submitted wings in the past would consider helping in the wing collection effort. Hunters can request prepaid wing envelopes on the Department’s website at

Jesse Kolar

--- Hungarian Partridge ---
Opens: Sept. 8
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The Hungarian partridge is one of the upland species that appears be doing better this year. Although they are rare on the landscape, and difficult to target (most hunters harvest them incidentally while pursuing sharp-tailed grouse or pheasants), some larger broods have been spotted on Department summer roadside surveys.

Partridge flourish with habitat edges and in small, disturbed areas, so some of the unsuccessful crops and dry weather in 2017 may have benefited this bird. Moreover, unlike grouse and pheasants, partridge chicks can survive on a diet higher in forbs if insects are not as abundant. Partridge, in general, do better than other upland birds in dry cycles.

Partridge numbers have slowly increased in five of the past six years. Biologists will continue to observe broods during late summer roadside counts, with results available in September.

Jesse Kolar

--- Tree Squirrels ---
Opens: Sept. 8
Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
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: Aug. 31
Archery Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 9
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 25
Muzzleloader Opens: Nov. 30
Muzzleloader Closes: Dec. 16

Game and Fish made available 55,150 licenses for the 2018 hunting season, an increase of 650 from 2017.

The statewide deer gun hunter success rate in 2017 was 61 percent, a little lower than in 2016 (66 percent), and below the Department goal of 70 percent.

The winter of 2017-18 was a mixed bag. Conditions over much of the state were mild to moderate. However, northeastern North Dakota received some late winter snow causing prolonged winter conditions.

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.

Population and harvest data indicate that the state’s deer population is stable to increasing, but still well below management goals. Deer numbers remain below objectives in most hunting units due to prolonged effects of severe winters in 2008-09 and 2010-11, which not only increased adult mortality, but also reduced fawn production.

The extreme winter conditions followed nearly a decade of aggressive deer management that featured large numbers of antlerless licenses in most units. In addition, the northeastern part of the state also experienced severe winters during 2012-13 and 2013-14, which continued to impede population recovery.

Further, high-quality deer habitat is not as abundant as in the past, which limits the potential for population recovery. For example, deer numbers in hunting units 2E and 2C in northeastern North Dakota have not responded to more favorable winter weather conditions and reduced harvest. These hunting units have lost approximately 60 percent of CRP grass cover and nearly 400 acres of trees.

Conditions for winter aerial surveys were generally poor throughout the state, so only two of the 32 hunting units with monitoring blocks were flown. Biologists surveyed units 3A1 and 3B3 in March, and deer numbers were stable in 3A1 and increasing in 3B3.

A summary of deer licenses for 2018:

  • Any-antlered licenses reduced by 100.
  • Any-antlerless licenses reduced by 250.
  • Antlered white-tailed deer licenses increased by 150.
  • Antlerless white-tailed deer licenses increased by 150.
  • Antlered mule deer licenses increased by 150.
  • Antlerless mule deer licenses increased by 550.
  • Antlerless mule deer licenses issued in hunting units 3B1 (100), 3B2 (100), 4B (200), 4C (250) 4D (300), 4E (250) and 4F (250). No antlerless mule deer licenses were issued in hunting unit 4A.
  • 1,022 muzzleloader licenses available in 2018 – 511 antlered white-tailed deer licenses and 511 antlerless white-tailed deer licenses. This is the same number of muzzleloader licenses as 2017.
  • 260 “I” licenses available for the youth deer hunting season, up 15 licenses from 2017. 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.
  • 502 nonresident any-deer archery licenses available for 2018, an increase of 120 from 2017. The number of nonresident any deer archery licenses will increase to 607 in 2019.

Bill Jensen, Big Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Mule Deer ---
Archery Opens: Aug. 31
Archery Closes: Jan. 6, 2019
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 9
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 25

Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to show signs of recovery following the severe winters of 2008-10, which resulted in deer numbers declining by nearly 50 percent.

Mule deer densities this year remain high and are similar to last year. The 2018 spring index was 6 percent lower than the 2017 index, but still 45 percent above 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 seasons, more moderate winter conditions, and improved fawn production in 2013-17. Fawn production was highest in 2014 and 2016, with fawn-to-doe ratios of 95 and 90 fawns per 100 does, respectively.

An increasing mule deer population will mean more hunting opportunities this fall. There were 2,600 antlered mule deer licenses available in 2018, an increase of 150 from 2017. Antlerless mule deer licenses were also increased from 900 to 1,450 in 2018. All mule deer units will have antlerless licenses except 4A, where the population remains below management goals.

A mule deer buck license remains one of the most difficult licenses to draw in the lottery. Those lucky enough to draw a license should expect a high-quality hunt. Hunter success for mule deer buck hunters was 83 percent in 2017.

While another year of a population increase is encouraging, mule deer in the badlands face many challenges, such as encroachment of juniper in mule deer habitat, direct and indirect habitat loss due to energy development, predators and variable weather conditions.

Bruce Stillings, Big Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Pronghorn ---
Archery Only Opens: Aug. 31
Archery Only Closes: Sept. 23
Gun/Archery Season Opens: Oct. 5
Gun/Archery Season Closes: Oct. 21

North Dakota hunters will have more opportunities to hunt pronghorn this year thanks to a large population increase.

Biologists conducted aerial surveys in early July and found that the number of pronghorn in the state increased by 57 percent from last year. The population increased to nearly 9,500 animals, which is the highest estimate since 2009.

Pronghorn have been slowly recovering since 2013 following the severe winters of 2008-09 and 2010-11, which resulted in numbers declining by 75 percent. A combination of milder winter conditions since then, closed seasons from 2010-13, and improved fawn production and survival since 2013 have helped the population reach a level that is able to support a higher harvest this fall.

Game and Fish will maintain a conservative harvest strategy to provide hunting opportunities, while encouraging population growth. In 2018, 1,075 licenses were allocated, or 665 more than 2017. Ten hunting units – 1A, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4C, 5A, 6A and 7A – are open this fall, five more than in 2017.

Hunters who drew a lottery license can use it during the archery season from August 31-September 23, or during the rifle season October 5-21, using legal firearms or archery equipment.

Last year’s limited season was successful, with 366 hunters harvesting 275 pronghorn, for a success rate of 75 percent. The harvest consisted of 247 adult bucks, 10 does and 18 fawns. Hunters should expect similar success this year.

Bruce Stillings

--- Bighorn Sheep ---

Season Details

For season details, refer to the Game and Fish Department website,, or the 2018 bighorn sheep, elk and moose hunting guide.

The Department’s spring bighorn sheep survey revealed a minimum of 265 bighorn sheep in western North Dakota, down 11 percent from 2016 and 9 percent below the five-year average.

Biologists counted 91 rams, 149 ewes and 25 lambs. Not included are approximately 20 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The survey count was the lowest since 2006. The decline in the 2017 count reflects the spread of bacterial pneumonia to three previously unaffected herds and consequently the adult and lamb mortalities that followed.

The northern badlands population declined 10 percent from 2016, and the southern badlands population was down 21 percent.

The total count of adult rams and ewes was much lower than the record high counts in 2016, but the lamb count and recruitment rate improved slightly in 2017, albeit still much below the long-term averages.

Fortunately, adult mortality was low in previously affected herds, and lamb survival improved as well, which could indicate those herds initially exposed to the deadly pathogens in 2014 are beginning to recover. The next few years will be important in determining if the state’s population shows signs of recovering from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2018, unless there is a recurrence of significant adult mortality from bacterial pneumonia. The status of the bighorn sheep season will be determined September 1, after the summer population survey is completed.

Game and Fish issued five licenses in 2017 and all hunters were successful harvesting a ram. In March, a record 14,617 prospective hunters submitted an application for bighorn sheep. The Game and Fish Department does not determine the number of bighorn sheep licenses until completion of its summer population survey, and that was still in progress as this issue went to press.

Brett Wiedmann, Big Game Management Biologist, Dickinson

--- Moose ---

For season details, refer to the Game and Fish Department website,, or the 2018 bighorn sheep, elk and moose hunting guide.

The 2018 North Dakota moose season will again include another record number of once-in-a-lifetime licenses. The increase in license numbers is primarily for the northwest region of the state in moose management units M9, M10 and M11, 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 again this year. Moose unit M4, which encompasses the Turtle Mountains, was closed in 2013 and will also remain closed this fall.

Game and Fish issued 330 licenses for 2018. This is an increase from 245 licenses in 2017. The chance at a moose license also drew 21,042 applications last March, which is a record.

Expectations for the season are high as success for moose historically runs above 90 percent.

Jason Smith, Big Game Management Biologist, Jamestown

--- Elk ---

For season details, refer to the Game and Fish Department website,, or the 2018 bighorn sheep, elk and moose hunting guide.

North Dakota’s 2018 elk season features 404 licenses, which is an increase from 2017. A record 18,047 prospective hunters applied for those licenses.

The primary increase in license numbers was for elk unit E3. This was in response to a growing elk population around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The season outlook for elk in 2018 is good, with success similar to previous years.

As always, making landowner contacts and scouting prior to the season opener is recommended and is an essential component to a successful fall hunt.

Jason Smith

Ducks flying

Migratory Birds

--- Ducks and Geese ---

Declining wetland conditions, but good waterfowl numbers were found during the Game and Fish Department’s 71st annual spring breeding duck survey. However, wetland conditions across much of the state made a quick turn-around following abundant late spring and early summer rains.

In early May, waterfowl habitats were drying up as spring progressed, continuing a trend that started the previous spring. The 2018 May water index was the 45th highest on record, down 34 percent from 2017, and 29 percent below the 1948-2017 average. Some areas of the state were quite dry, and few ducks settled in these areas.

Following the survey in May, a lot of rain fell through June and into early July in many important duck producing regions. While wetland conditions are a little spotty due to the nature of heavy rains from isolated storms, the precipitation greatly improved things, and incited renesting by hens that had failed during earlier nesting attempts.

This year’s breeding duck index was the 25th highest on record, down 5 percent from last year, and 17 percent above the long-term average. This is the second year since 1994 that the state’s estimated breeding population of ducks (2.81 million) dipped below 3 million birds.

All species, except shoveler (up 10 percent) and wigeon (up 7 percent), had lower numbers than 2017. Mallards were down 1 percent from 2017 for their 21st highest count on record. Green-winged teal declined 20 percent, while all other species declined from 17 percent (redheads) to 4 percent (scaup).

Although most species declined from last year’s estimates, all species, except pintail (31 percent below), blue-winged teal (19 percent below), and ruddy ducks (17 percent below) were above the long-term average. Those species above the long-term average include mallards (63 percent above), wigeon (57 percent above), shovelers (42 percent above), redheads (42 percent above), gadwall (28 percent above), scaup (28 percent above), green-winged teal (19 percent above) and canvasbacks (10 percent above).

The number of broods observed during the Department’s July brood survey was up 37 percent from 2017, and 77 percent above the 1965-2017 average. The average brood size was 6.76 ducklings, nearly identical to last year’s estimate.

July wetland counts were up 11 percent from 2017, and 7 percent below the long-term average. Wetland conditions were variable across the state, ranging from fair to very good in some smaller localized areas. Much of the state was quite dry to start spring, but most regions were drenched by early summer rains. When duck brood surveys were conducted, wetland conditions in the northwest, central and southeastern regions of the state had benefited most from rainfall, but duck production also appeared to be very good in the northeast part of the state.

Brood rearing wetlands benefited from June rains to provide good habitat for breeding ducks and their young. Many shallow wetlands recovered from drought last summer and upland vegetation is providing thick nesting cover. Some regions are still cycling through some dryness, but this will help maintain productivity within wetland basins when wet conditions return.

The forecast for the fall flight of ducks from North Dakota this year is up about 12 percent from last year, and is similar to 2013, 2015 and 2016.

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.

Game and Fish has added a new zone structure for hunting Canada geese to increase harvest opportunity in regions where geese are causing more problems, and also maintain late season opportunities in parts of the state where they are readily available. The changes mostly affect Canada goose hunters in the eastern half of the state.

North Dakota’s waterfowl hunting seasons are always affected by fall weather, and the mix from early to late seasons is usually not consistent from year to year. By producing a lot of birds locally, hunters aren’t as dependent on good migration weather to bring birds from Canada in a timely manner.

Abundant wetlands in good condition, coupled with abundant, secure nesting cover in the uplands drives duck production. Hunting opportunities for waterfowl should be good this season based on duck production in North Dakota and also reports from Saskatchewan. As always, hunting conditions will be a little variable, but this year hunters might see more localized variability with some areas swinging from being a little dry to very wet in just a matter of miles.

Prospects for a good fall flight from northern breeding areas should also 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. 15
Closes: Sept. 16
Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular season.
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Early Canada Goose Season ---
Opens: Aug. 15 (statewide)
Closes: Sept. 7 (Missouri River Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 15 (Western Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 21 (Eastern Canada Goose Zone)
Daily Limit: 15
Possession Limit: 45
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Canada Geese Regular Season ---
Opens: Sept. 22 (residents only), Sept. 29 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 28 (Missouri River Canada Goose Zone), Dec. 21 (Western Canada Goose Zone), Dec. 16 (Eastern Canada Goose Zone)
Daily Limit: 5 (Missouri River zone), 8 (all other zones)
Possession Limit: 15 (Missouri River zone), 24 (all other zones)

--- White-fronted Geese (Statewide) ---
Opens: Sept. 22 (residents only), Sept. 29 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 2
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9


--- Light (Snow) Geese (Statewide) ---
Opens: Sept. 22 (residents only), Sept. 29 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 30
Daily Limit: 50
Possession Limit: No possession limit
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 3. Starting Nov. 4, 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. 22, all-day hunting is also allowed on Sundays through the end of each season.

--- Regular Duck Season ---

Low Plains Unit
Opens: Sept. 22 (residents only), Sept. 29 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 2
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
High Plains Unit Opens: Sept. 22 (residents only), Sept. 29 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 2
Opens: Dec. 8
Closes: Dec. 30
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 pintails, two redheads, two canvasbacks, three scaup and three wood ducks. In addition to the daily bag limit of ducks, an additional two blue-winged teal may be taken from Sept. 22 through Oct. 7.
Possession Limit: Three times the daily limit.

--- Sandhill Cranes ---
Opens: Zone 1 and 2: Sept. 15
Closes: Zone 1 and 2: Nov. 11
Daily Limit Zone 1: 3
Daily Limit Zone 2: 2
Possession Limit Zone 1: 9
Possession Limit Zone 2: 6
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. daily through Nov. 3; to 2 p.m. Nov. 4 until end of season.

The Mid-continent Sandhill Crane Population is in good shape heading into fall.

Cold weather lingered into March and April during 2018 on the Northern Plains, which greatly slowed spring migration. As a result, few birds made it north of the central Platte River Valley of Nebraska where the annual spring survey is conducted. Given these conditions, a large proportion of the population was likely captured during the survey. Initial survey reports are quite promising, but survey numbers are not yet finalized.

In addition, the three-year population index used for guiding hunting season regulations has been stable to slightly increasing for several years now. Although North Dakota has received ample rainfall in summer, it has not been enough to completely replenish drying wetland basins. However, these lower water levels should lead to abundant staging areas throughout the state by 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. Zone 1 has a daily bag limit of three cranes; in Zone 2 the daily bag limit is two. The possession limit in Zone 1 is nine cranes, and six in Zone 2.

Nonresident sandhill crane hunters can pursue sandhill cranes with either a valid nonresident small game or waterfowl license, in addition to a crane permit. Nonresident sandhill crane permits are valid for use within the dates and zones of nonresident waterfowl or small game licenses selected during purchase.

Hunters are also reminded to be sure of their target before shooting, 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 observations, production in the state has been good to fair this year.

The relatively late spring did not seem to affect later nesting species, and since mid-May, conditions were suitable for mourning doves to nest often. Age ratios of juvenile to adult birds captured at banding stations throughout the state are also indicative of good production this year.

Dove hunters should experience good opportunities during early September before cooler weather pushes 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 oilseed fields that are also near shelterbelts or other diverse stands of trees. Doves also need to be within a few miles of water sources. Harvest of small grains and oilseed crops got a fairly early start, 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 are rarely harvested by hunters. Nonetheless, Eurasian collared doves can be pursued during the dove season and are included with mourning doves in the daily bag and possession limit if harvested.

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. 18
Closes: Nov. 5
Spring Season Opens: March 9, 2019
Closes: April 21, 2019
Daily Limit: 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.

--- Snipe ---
Opens: Sept. 15
Closes: Dec. 2
Daily Limit: 8
Possession Limit: 24
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Woodcock ---
Opens: Sept. 22
Closes: Nov. 5
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.



For more season details, refer to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website,, or the North Dakota 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

Last year’s inaugural river otter season was popular with trappers, as the harvest limit of 15 river otters was met in only eight days. River otters were taken by trappers along the Red River and its tributaries.

This year’s trapping season for river otters will be the same as last season. It is important for trappers to report incidental capture of otters outside of the open season, as the biological information collected from those animals is used to accurately monitor population trends.

Trappers and hunters who like to pursue the state’s most popular furbearer, the coyote, should have plenty of opportunities again this fur season. After trending slightly downward last year, coyote numbers have rebounded in most regions of the state. Game and Fish surveys indicated the highest densities this spring were in the Prairie Pothole Region and Red River Valley. Consequently, fox numbers are down from last year.

Muskrats have not rebounded after their numbers dipped in 2013. Last year’s drought was likely a significant factor in keeping their numbers low. In contrast, spring surveys indicated an increase in badgers, beavers and skunks throughout several regions of the state. And although mink, raccoon and weasel numbers are up slightly in some regions compared to last year, these species remain well below their long-term averages on a statewide level.

The seasons for bobcats, fishers and mountain lions will also be the same as last year. Last year, hunters and/or trappers took 76 bobcats, 38 fishers, 12 mountain lions in Zone 1 (six in the early season and six in the late season) and six in Zone 2.

Trappers are reminded that Game and Fish recommends checking all traps and snares by visually inspecting them and removing all captured animals at no greater than 48-hour intervals, and that rubber gloves be worn for skinning and handling of all furbearers.

Stephanie Tucker, Game Management Section Leader, Bismarck

--- Mountain Lion Hunting ---
Zone 1 (early) Opens: Aug. 31
Closes: Nov. 25
Zone 1 (late) Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: March 31, 2019
Zone 2 Opens: Aug. 31
Closes: March 31, 2019

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. 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. 26
Closes: March 15, 2019

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 North Dakota 2018-19 hunting and trapping guide.

--- Fisher Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: Dec. 2

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 North Dakota 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

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

For more information, see the North Dakota 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

--- Beaver and Raccoon Cable Devices on Land ---
Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: March 15, 2019

From March 16, 2019, through May 10, 2019, 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. 27

Hunting and Cable Devices
Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: March 15, 2019

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. 27

Hunting and Cable Devices

Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: May 10, 2019

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, 2019, 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, 2019, 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. 10
Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: March 15, 2019

Open only in the area south and west of the Missouri River. Beginning Nov. 26, 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.

For more information, see the 2018-19 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. 26 through March 15, 2019. 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. Use of spotlights or any other artificial light, including infrared lights, are prohibited.

--- Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote and Badger Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 26
Closes: March 15, 2019