Deer hunters in the badlands

2019 Hunting Outlook

Authors and Contributors





Summer has come and gone. There was a time when I would wish away the 90-degree summer days to get to the cooler fall weather, when mosquito spray and sunscreen are no longer required.

Yet, as I get older, I no longer do this, no matter the season, because summer disappears quickly enough on its own. Unfortunately, so does fall. I’m now at the point where I would gladly stop the clock to prevent the days, months, seasons and years from racing by.

Both of my daughters have youth deer tags this year, another sign that time is passing, and that they are growing up too fast. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was dropping them off at their first day of school.

Anyway, time flies.

Excluding the north central portion of North Dakota, rain was plentiful this summer, and the countryside looks fantastic because of it. There is an abundance of vegetation for livestock and wildlife, crops look wonderful and there are plenty of insects, a must-have food source for young game birds the first several weeks after hatching.

As always in North Dakota, there are some challenges, with a few highlights mixed in. For example:

Chronic Wasting Disease

North Dakota opened a new chapter in its CWD book last year when the disease was found in the northwestern part of the state. This didn’t come as a total surprise as Game and Fish Department wildlife managers were contacted a year prior by Saskatchewan officials about a deer that tested positive for CWD just 7 miles north of Portal.

In addition, testing efforts in Montana also revealed several CWD positive deer in the northeast corner of the state and farther west along the Canadian border.

To reduce the spread of CWD, the Game and Fish Department will manage deer at a lower density, and has implemented a baiting ban and carcass transportation restrictions. These measures are all consistent with how we have dealt with CWD in unit 3F2 since 2009.

The goal is to keep the prevalence of CWD at a low level in North Dakota. Anytime we can minimize the amount of time deer spend congregated, such as around bait piles, will help reduce the potential spread as the prions that cause CWD are believed to be spread through saliva, urine and feces.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that live animals are the only concern to spreading CWD. Transporting harvested, CWD-positive animals and disposing of their carcasses is also believed to be a method of contamination because prions remain on the landscape for an extended period. Tissue from the central nervous and lymph systems are particularly concerning, which is why it is important to leave the head and spinal column in the area where deer are harvested.

Through education and cooperation from hunters, the Game and Fish Department is encouraged it will achieve its goal of keeping CWD at a low prevalence.

Western Elk Research

While North Dakota isn’t known as an elk hunting destination, the opportunity and experience for residents to hunt this big game animal is cherished. To be able to hunt and harvest an elk in your home state is an opportunity that approximately 20,000 residents look forward to each spring when they apply in the Department’s competitive lottery.

Elk in western North Dakota have expanded their range and big game biologists are curious to learn more about their movements, preferred habitats and improving survey protocol for annual monitoring. In a cooperative effort between the Game and Fish Department and the University of Montana, work crews collared 90 elk in January to begin gathering data.

To date, more than 150,000 GPS collar location points have been collected from collared elk in the northern and southern badlands and eastern Montana. While the study is a long way from completion, the movement data is interesting and reaffirms the challenge the Department has in managing elk. The research and findings will only improve the Department’s goal of managing elk within the capacity of available habitat, landowner tolerance, while providing elk hunting opportunities for the public.

Private Land Open To Sportsmen

The Game and Fish Department’s PLOTS program experienced an increase in the number of acres enrolled in the walk-in access hunting program, which is good news. Unfortunately, North Dakota’s landscape, PLOTS tracts included, is not dotted with large tracts of Conservation Reserve Program acres like it once was. The CRP program fulfilled both the habitat and public access component quite well under our private land initiative.

While the PLOTS program is nosing near 800,000 acres, Department personnel often wonder if they could do more for both wildlife and access. What if a program focused solely on wildlife by cost-sharing with interested landowners and didn’t require access? The Department’s existing model will work with any interested landowner, on any habitat project, but does require public access.

We know there are some landowners out there who already do great things for wildlife, and would do more, if the access component wasn’t required. We also understand that many people would not be comfortable with Game and Fish using hunter dollars on projects where the public isn’t afforded guaranteed access.

Agency officials hope to visit with the public about this option at upcoming advisory board meetings to generate the discussion on the pros and cons of this type of program. As you are hunting this fall, give it some thought. Drop me a note. Give me a call. We want to hear from you as we move forward.

JEB WILLIAMS is the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief.

Notable Small Game, Waterfowl and Furbearer Regulations

North Dakota’s 2019 small game, waterfowl and furbearer regulations and most season structures are similar to last year.

Noteworthy items include:

  • Opening day for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers for North Dakota residents is September 21. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota September 28.
  • The daily limit on pintails is reduced from two to one.
  • River otter season limit is increased from 15 to 20.
  • The fisher trapping season is expanded almost statewide, except for Bottineau and Rolette counties, which remain closed.
  • The tree squirrel season is extended to February 29.
  • Veterans and members of the Armed Forces (including National Guard and Reserves) on active duty, who possess a resident hunting license, may hunt waterfowl September 14-15.
  • The prairie chicken and sage grouse seasons will remain closed due to low populations.
  • In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or Private Land Open To Sportsmen areas from October 12-18.

Hunters and trappers can find the North Dakota 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide – which includes upland game, migratory game bird and furbearer/trapping regulations and other information – by visiting the state Game and Fish Department’s website. Printed guides are available at vendor locations.

Sharp-tailed grouse in tree

Upland and Small Game

--- Ring-necked Pheasants ---
Opens: Oct. 12
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Pheasants in North Dakota were treated with above average snowfall and below average temperatures for most of last winter. However, results of the spring crowing count survey showed higher numbers of breeding roosters throughout most of the traditional pheasant range. The number of roosters heard calling was up anywhere from 14-16 percent throughout North Dakota’s good pheasant range. This was not a surprise, as last summer’s reproduction led to a slight increase in the late summer roadside counts.

Cover for nesting hens was average in spring due to timely spring rains and residual cover. Those timely rains continued into summer and all of North Dakota was green through late July. Areas in the southwestern part of the state experienced multiple severe weather events, which may translate to pockets of low densities of pheasants due to chick mortality.

At the time of this writing, Game and Fish biologists were still conducting summer roadside brood counts. Preliminary findings indicate hunters will see bird numbers comparable to last year.

The drought two years ago caused poor production across the state. Thus, pheasants still entered this breeding season with a lower than average adult breeding population. However, most of the state should have good production, so hunters need to be mobile and willing to move to different locations to find some good pheasant hunting opportunities.

Rodney Gross, Upland Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Wild Turkeys ---
Opens: Oct. 12
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The turkey population in many of the state’s hunting units has been higher than normal the past few years due to increased production in the western half of the state.

Last year, conditions were improved from the drought in 2017. Turkey production was good last spring, so fall numbers were higher in parts of the state.

In spring 2019, conditions were favorable for an average hatch in the western part of the state. The eastern part of the state has seen declining numbers of birds the last few years in response to the loss of quality turkey habitat.

Early reports indicate good numbers of turkey broods on the ground in the west. Department biologists expect a small uptick in turkey production this year in this area. Fall wild turkey licenses were reduced slightly in an attempt to turn turkey numbers around and improve hunter success, mainly focusing on shifting licenses from the eastern part of the state to the west. It’s anticipated the central and west central parts of the state along river corridors will provide some of the better turkey hunting opportunities in North Dakota this fall.

Rodney Gross

--- Ruffed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 14
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Ruffed grouse populations occur in the Turtle Mountains in the north central part of the state and in the Pembina Hills in the northeast. They are typically found in aspen forests with multi-aged stands of trees.

In 2019, spring drumming counts showed mixed results. Spring surveys showed a 41 percent decrease in the Turtle Mountains, but nearly four times more grouse were heard drumming in the Pembina Hills this year.

Once again, for anyone looking to key in on ruffed grouse, it’s recommended that hunters look for areas with quaking aspen stands that provide areas of young, densely packed shoots mixed with areas of large mature trees.

Jesse Kolar, Upland Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Sharp-tailed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 14
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Sharp-tailed grouse harvest in 2018 remained near 20-year lows. Unfortunately, the 2018 hunter reports and 2019 spring surveys have only shown slight increases since the drastic population decline in 2017.

Nesting conditions were good for 2019. This spring was the first since the drought of 2017 where the state had tall residual vegetation and promising nesting conditions. Additionally, there were not widespread severe storms during the June-July nesting and brood rearing period. So far, during the first half of Department brood surveys, biologists have observed slight increases in the number of sharptail broods, but no increase in average brood size (4.6 chicks per brood). Sharptail broods are observed more frequently later in the brood survey period (late August), so a better fall forecast will be available when results of summer roadside counts are released in early September.

Currently, the highest sharptail densities occur in our management district that follows the Missouri River from Montana to South Dakota. The lowest densities have been in the far eastern part of the state.

Hunters 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 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide.)

Once again, hunters are encouraged to send in grouse and Hungarian partridge wings from harvested birds to help biologists further assess production for 2019. Since it’s predicted harvest will be low, it’s hoped that hunters who have not submitted wings in the past will help in the wing collection effort. Hunters can request prepaid wing envelopes here.

Jesse Kolar

--- Hungarian Partridge ---
Opens: Sept. 14
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
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 farming practices changed and weather patterns shifted from a dry to a predominately wet cycle, partridge populations responded negatively.

Over the past five years, North Dakota’s partridge population has continued to decline. Hunters will most likely see reduced partridge numbers compared to last year due to below average reproduction in response to a wet spring. Biologists have observed smaller partridge broods this year compared to summer 2018.

Partridge respond favorably to drier conditions and it’s hoped that this will only be a quick depression and the Hun population will rebound. Partridge are a bird that hunters primarily harvest while pursuing sharp-tailed grouse or pheasants. Hunters should keep a look 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 potential areas.

Rodney Gross

--- Tree Squirrels ---
Opens: Sept. 14
Closes: Feb. 29, 2020
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.

Whtie-tailed buck

Big Game

--- White-tailed Deer ---
Archery Opens: Aug. 30
Archery Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 8
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 24
Muzzleloader Opens: Nov. 29
Muzzleloader Closes: Dec. 15

Game and Fish made available 65,500 licenses for the 2019 hunting season, an increase 10,350 from 2018.

Population and harvest data indicate the state’s deer population is stable to increasing, but still below management goals in most eastern hunting units. Consequently, there was a moderate increase in deer licenses allocated in 2019, to increase hunting opportunities while continuing to encourage population growth. The statewide deer gun hunter success rate in 2018 was 64 percent, a little higher than 2017 (61 percent), and below the Department goal of 70 percent.

Because deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in hunting units 3A1 and 3B1, deer management strategies were altered in those and surrounding units. The goal is to minimize the CWD prevalence rate and reduce the spread of the disease outside those two units. Therefore, a more aggressive harvest strategy was applied in the northwestern part of the state.

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.

Winter aerial surveys were generally good to excellent throughout most of the state, allowing 31 of the 32 hunting units with monitoring blocks to be flown. In terms of severity, the winter of 2018-19 was a mixed bag. Conditions in most of the state were moderate, however, the southeastern portion of the state received some late winter snow causing prolonged winter conditions.

Deer numbers were stable in Slope, Missouri River, Turtle Mountains, Badlands and Souris/Des Lacs management units; increasing in Coteau, Sheyenne/James, Pembina Hills, and Red River management units; and decreasing in the Devils Lake management unit.

The 2019 spring mule deer index declined by 20 percent from 2018, but remains 14 percent above the long-term average. Mule deer densities in the badlands are above the long-term average, with localized areas above landowner tolerance levels.

A conservative management approach will continue for mule deer in the badlands for 2019; antlered licenses were increased by 150 and antlerless licenses were increased by 200. Mule deer densities increased by 34 percent in hunting unit 4A, allowing Game and Fish to issue antlerless mule deer licenses in that unit for the first time since 2011.

A summary of deer licenses for 2019:

  • Any-antlered licenses increased by 3,150.
  • Any-antlerless licenses increased by 4,100.
  • Antlered white-tailed deer licenses increased by 700.
  • Antlerless white-tailed deer licenses increased by 1,250.
  • Antlered mule deer licenses increased by 450.
  • Antlerless mule deer licenses increased by 700.
  • 1,206 muzzleloader licenses available in 2019 – 603 antlered white-tailed deer licenses and 603 antlerless white-tailed deer licenses. This is an increase of 184 muzzleloader licenses from 2018.
  • 305 “I” licenses available for the youth deer hunting season, up 45 licenses from 2018. The licenses are limited in number for units 3B1, 3B2, and 4A-4F, and are valid for any deer. There are unlimited “H” youth deer hunting licenses that are valid for any deer statewide, except mule deer bucks in the above restricted units.
  • 607 nonresident any-deer archery licenses available for 2019, an increase of 105 from 2018. The number of nonresident any-deer archery licenses will increase to 780 in 2020.

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.

Bill Jensen, Big Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Mule Deer ---
Archery Opens: Aug. 30
Archery Closes: Jan. 5, 2020
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 8
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 24

Mule deer in North Dakota’s badlands continue to show signs of recovery following the severe winters of 2008-09 through 2010-11, which resulted in deer numbers declining by nearly 50 percent from population levels in 2007. Mule deer densities remain high in 2019, although lower than 2018. The 2019 spring index was 20 percent lower than 2018, but 14 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 hunting seasons, more moderate winter conditions, and improved fawn production in 2013-18. Fawn production was highest in 2014 and 2016 with fawn-to-doe ratios of 95 and 90 fawns per 100 does, respectively.

A stable mule deer population will mean more hunting opportunities this fall. There were 3,050 antlered mule deer licenses available in 2019, an increase of 450 from 2018. Antlerless mule deer licenses also increased from 1,450 to 2,150 in 2019.

Much of the license increase was in hunting units 3B1 and 3B2 in response to a deer that tested positive for chronic wasting disease in hunting unit 3B1. All mule deer units have antlerless licenses this year. This is the first year since 2011 that antlerless licenses were issued in hunting unit 4A.

A mule deer buck license remains one of the most difficult licenses to draw, but for those lucky hunters, it should result in a high-quality hunt. Hunter success for mule deer buck hunters was 81 percent in 2018.

While another year of a stable to increasing population 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 weather conditions.

Bruce Stillings, Big Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Pronghorn ---
Archery Only Opens: Aug. 30
Archery Only Closes: Sept. 22
Gun/Archery Season Opens: Oct. 4
Gun/Archery Season Closes: Oct. 20

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

Biologists conducted aerial surveys in early July and found that the number of pronghorn in the state increased by 4 percent from last year. The population increased to just over 9,800 animals, which is the highest estimate since 2009.

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

Game and Fish will continue a conservative harvest strategy to provide hunting opportunities, while encouraging population growth. In 2019, 1,330 licenses were allocated, or 255 more than in 2018. Twelve hunting units – 1A, 1D, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4C, 5A, 6A, 7A, and 10A – are open this fall, two more than 2018. Hunting unit 1D and 10A are open for the first time since 2009.

Pronghorn have also increased to a level in hunting unit 4A where doe/fawn licenses were issued to address areas of high pronghorn density and provide additional hunting opportunities. Hunters who drew a lottery license can use it during the archery season from August 30- September 22, or during the rifle season October 4-October 20, using legal firearms or archery equipment.

Last year’s season was successful, with 976 hunters harvesting 792 pronghorn for a success rate of 81 percent. The harvest consisted of 761 adult bucks, 28 does and three fawns. Hunters should expect similar success this year.

Bruce Stillings

--- Bighorn Sheep ---

The Department’s spring bighorn sheep survey, completed by recounting lambs in March, revealed a minimum of 283 bighorn sheep in western North Dakota, up 7 percent from 2017 and equal to the five-year average.

Biologists counted 84 rams, 161 ewes and 38 lambs. Not included are approximately 20 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The increase in the 2018 count reflects lessening effects of bacterial pneumonia detected in 2014. The northern badlands population increased 9 percent from 2017 and was the second highest count on record. The southern badlands population declined again to the lowest level since 1999.

The total count of adult rams declined in 2018, but the number of adult ewes increased. Most encouraging was the significant increase in the lamb count and recruitment rate following record lows in 2016 and 2017.

Fortunately, annual survival rates of adult bighorns are similar to those prior to the die-off and lamb survival is improving, which could indicate the population is becoming somewhat resilient to the deadly pathogens first observed in 2014. 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.

Four of 15 adult bighorns tested for the deadly pathogens last winter were positive.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2019, 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 three licenses in 2018 and all hunters were successful in harvesting a ram.

Season Details

Brett Wiedmann, Big Game Management Biologist, Dickinson

--- Moose ---

For season details, refer to the Game and Fish Department website, or the 2019 bighorn sheep, elk and moose hunting guide.

The 2019 North Dakota moose season will again include a 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 northwest 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 475 licenses for 2019. This is an increase from 330 licenses in 2018. Expectations for the season are high as success for moose hunters historically runs above 90 percent.

Season Details

Jason Smith, Big Game Management Biologist, Jamestown

--- Elk ---

North Dakota’s 2019 elk season features 474 licenses, which is an increase from 2018. The primary increase in licenses was for elk units E1E, E1W and E3. This was in response to growing elk populations in those areas. The season outlook for elk in 2019 is good, with success likely 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 hunt this fall.

Season Details

Jason Smith

Sandhill cranes in a harvested crop field

Migratory Birds

--- Ducks and Geese ---

Much improved wetland conditions, along with increased numbers of waterfowl responding to those conditions, were found during the Game and Fish Department’s 72nd annual breeding duck survey. Much of the state had good to excellent conditions for breeding ducks in spring and breeding habitats were maintained by abundant rain going into summer.

The 2019 May water index was the 33rd highest on record, up 46 percent from 2018, and 4 percent above the 1948-2018 average. Although the statewide index was near average, few areas had average wetland conditions. Excellent wetland conditions in the southern and eastern part of the state quickly deteriorated moving into the north central region, but were fair to good in the northwest region.

Following the May survey, average to above average rainfall continued through June and into early July in many important duck producing regions. Widespread abundant precipitation maintained good wetland conditions in seasonal wetland basins, and incited renesting by hens that failed during early nesting attempts.

This year’s breeding duck index was the 22nd highest on record, up 20 percent from last year, and 40 percent above the long-term average. The state’s estimated breeding population of ducks (3.37 million) increased back above 3 million birds for the first time since 2016.

All of North Dakota’s primary species of breeding ducks had increased breeding population estimates over what was observed in 2018. Mallards were up 16 percent from 2018 for their 17th highest count on record. Green-winged teal and ruddy ducks increased 81.4 percent and 56.8 percent, respectively. Increases of all other duck species ranged from 4.7 percent for scaup to 40.1 percent for pintails.

Blue-winged teal are at their long-term average (1948-2018), and green-winged teal (114 percent above); mallards (87 percent above); redheads (98 percent above); shovelers (82 percent above); wigeon (67 percent above); gadwall (35 percent above); scaup and ruddy ducks (33 percent above); and canvasbacks (27 percent above) are above the long-term average. Pintails were the only species to not surpass (3 percent below) their long-term average.

The number of broods observed during the Department’s July brood survey was down 9 percent from 2018, but 59 percent above the 1965-2018 average. The average brood size was 6.67 ducklings, nearly identical to last year’s estimate. July wetland counts were up 41 percent from 2018, and 34 percent above the long-term average. Wetland conditions were variable across the state, ranging from poor to excellent in some regions, and most observers commented that thick wetland vegetation made it difficult to observe broods.

When duck brood surveys were conducted, wetland conditions in the south central and southeastern regions of the state had benefited most from rainfall, but duck production also appeared to be very good in the northeast and northwest parts of the state. Although conditions for observing broods were tough this year, observers noted that delayed haying allowed many late-nesting or renesting hens to hatch broods, especially lesser scaup.

Brood-rearing wetlands benefited from abundant snowmelt and consistent rain to provide good habitat for breeding ducks and their young. Many shallow wetlands have recovered from drying up last summer and upland vegetation is providing thick nesting cover. The north central region is 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 will be up about 5 percent from last year, and similar to 2009, 2011 and 2013 and the highest since 2014.

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 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 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. However, prairie Canada was fairly dry this spring and that might limit the size of the fall flight of ducks that migrate through the state.

As always, hunting conditions will vary, but this year hunters should see more consistent wetland conditions within broader regions.

The Department’s fall wetland survey will give one last look at regional wetland conditions in September. Prospects for a good fall flight from northern breeding areas will 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. 14
Closes: Sept. 15
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular season.

--- Special Veteran and Active Military Waterfowl Season ---

(For legally licensed veterans and members of the Armed Forces on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserves on active duty, other than for training.)

Opens: Sept. 14
Closes: Sept. 15
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular season (does not include bonus blue-winged teal).

--- Early Canada Goose Season ---
Opens: Aug. 15 (statewide)
Closes: Sept. 7 (Missouri River Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 15 (Western Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 20 (Eastern Canada Goose Zone)
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 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. 21 (residents only), Sept. 28 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 1
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

--- 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 Nov. 27, all-day hunting is also allowed on Sundays through the end of each season.

--- 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), one pintail, 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. 21 through Oct. 6.
Possession Limit: Three times the daily limit.


--- Sandhill Cranes ---
Opens: Zone 1 and 2: Sept. 14
Closes: Zone 1 and 2: Nov. 10
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. 2; to 2 p.m. Nov. 3 until end of season.

The Mid-continent Sandhill Crane Population is in good shape heading into fall. Cold weather lingered into March and April on the northern Great Plains for the second straight year in 2019, which greatly slowed the spring migration. As a result, few birds made it north of the central Platte River Valley in Nebraska where the annual spring survey is conducted.

Given these conditions, a large proportion of the population was likely captured during the survey. Initial reports indicate numbers comparable to record-setting 2018 totals. In addition, the three-year population index used for guiding hunting season regulations has been stable to slightly increasing for several years.

Wetland conditions throughout much of North Dakota also improved tremendously in summer, which will provide plenty of options for roosting sandhill cranes during fall migration.

The two-zone structure for sandhill cranes continues. Zone 1 is west of U.S. Highway 281 and Zone 2 is east of U.S. Highway 281. 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 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 fair, but likely down from previous years. The cool and wet summer that most of North Dakota experienced typically hinders production and doves often nest less.

The Game Fish Department tallies mourning doves during late summer roadside counts, but numbers were not yet finalized before this issue went to press. Although survey numbers were not available to compare to previous years, hunters should expect slightly fewer doves this fall. However, given the sheer size of this population, hunting should still be good, but expect to put a little more effort into finding concentrations of birds.

Dove hunters should experience good opportunities during early September before cooler weather sets in throughout the state and pushes doves south. Hunters are encouraged to scout before the season to find the right mix of conditions that are 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 are projected to be a little behind average, but by September hunters should still 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 limits if harvested.

Some dove hunters may be contacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to participate in a wing survey. 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. 17
Closes: Nov. 4
Spring Season Opens: March 14, 2020
Closes: April 26, 2020
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. 14
Closes: Dec. 1
Daily Limit: 8
Possession Limit: 24
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Woodcock ---
Opens: Sept. 21
Closes: Nov. 4
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Coyote in the badlands


For more season details, refer to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, or the 2019-20 hunting and trapping guide.

Notable changes to furbearer regulations this fall include a slight increase in the river otter harvest limit and an expansion of the area open to fisher trapping.

The statewide harvest limit for river otters will be 20 this coming season, up from 15 last season, which was reached in 2018 in only 7 days. Fisher trapping will now be allowed statewide during the open season, except for Bottineau and Rolette counties. Fisher trapping will not be allowed in those counties to continue protection of American marten in those areas. Last season trappers took 26 fishers during the open season.

Legislative changes to state law also expanded technology to allow for night hunting of some furbearers starting this fall. Hunters can use artificial light (must produce a red, green or amber color) or infrared light while hunting afoot for coyote, fox, raccoon and beaver during the open night-hunting seasons. The use of night vision or thermal vision remains legal during the open seasons as well.

Trappers and hunters should expect to see fewer coyotes throughout the state this year, as both harvest and spring surveys were down from 2018. Game and Fish Department surveys indicated the highest densities of coyotes in spring were once again in the Prairie Pothole Region. Red fox numbers remain low throughout the state.

Muskrats have yet to rebound after their numbers dipped back in 2013. Similarly, spring surveys indicated decreases in beavers and skunks throughout most of the state. And although badger, mink and raccoon 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 and mountain lions will also be the same as 2018. Last year, hunters and/or trappers took 64 bobcats, 11 mountain lions in Zone 1 (two in the early-season, seven in the late-season, and two in the conditional season) and three mountain lions in Zone 2.

Trappers are reminded that the Department 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. 30
Closes: Nov. 24
Zone 1 (late)
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: March 31, 2020
Zone 2
Opens: Aug. 30
Closes: March 31, 2020

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. 25, mountain lions may also be hunted by pursuing with dogs. Cable devices and traps are not allowed. The limit is one lion per hunter. 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 presented for tagging. Legally taken animals will be returned to the hunter.

--- River Otter Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: March 15, 2020

Limit of one per person. Total harvest limit of 20 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 2019-20 hunting and trapping guide.

--- Fisher Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: Dec. 1

Open statewide except for Bottineau and Rolette counties. 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 2019-20 hunting and trapping guide.

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

For more information, see the North Dakota 2019-20 hunting and trapping guide.

--- Beaver and Raccoon Cable Devices on Land ---
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: May 10, 2020

From March 16, 2020, through May 10, 2020, 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 ---
Opens: Oct. 26
Hunting and Cable Devices
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: March 15, 2020

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. 26
Hunting and Cable Devices
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: May 10, 2020

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, 2020, 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, 2020, 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. 9
Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: March 15, 2020

Open only in the area south and west of the Missouri River. Beginning Nov. 25, 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 2019-20 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. 25 through March 15, 2020. 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, artificial light, thermal vision, and infrared light equipment during this portion of the season. The artificial light must produce a red, green or amber color.

--- Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote and Badger Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 25
Closes: March 15, 2020