Skip to main content - The Official Portal for North Dakota State Government
Alert: COVID-19 Related Closures and Information (Note: Department offices are open to public access by appointment only.)

Buffaloberry Patch

Authors and Contributors
Greg Freeman

Fall Mule Deer Survey

Mule deer in tall grass

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s fall mule deer survey indicated another year of good fawn production.

Biologists counted 2,116 mule deer in the aerial survey in October 2020. The ratio of 82 fawns per 100 does was similar to last year, while 36 bucks per 100 does was lower than in 2019.

“Overall, fawn production was good which could lead to population growth depending on the severity of this winter,” said Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor, Dickinson.

Snowfall and poor ground conditions during most of the survey limited biologists to 18 of the 24 study areas, Stillings said.

The fall aerial survey, conducted specifically to study demographics, covers 24 study areas and 306.3 square miles in western North Dakota. Biologists also survey the same study areas in the spring of each year to determine deer abundance.

Smartphone Apps for Ice Fishing

Advancements in technology, easily retrieved on the Game and Fish Department’s website, allow ice anglers access to more than 200 lake contour maps, providing yet another tool in the angler’s tackle box.

“Back when we first started mapping in the early 2000s, anglers pretty much had to print a paper lake contour map at home and take it with them to help navigate and find the underwater features,” said Jerry Weigel, Department fisheries production and development section supervisor.

Times have changed.

Anglers now have access to two free smartphone mobile apps on the Game and Fish Department website, both of which provide interactive functionality and work with a phone’s GPS.

One option, Weigel said, is ESRI ArcGIS Explorer, which requires cellular service to work in the field.

“When you’re out on the lake and you have the app running, it literally has the lake contour lines and everything,” he said. “It’d be the exact same thing you would do with your Lowrance GPS or young Hummingbird GPS when you’re navigating open water in the summer.”

Considering cellular service is iffy, at best, on about 30% of North Dakota’s fishing waters, there are benefits to downloading maps to your mobile device before leaving home using the Avenza Geospatial PDF app.

“With this electronic fishing map information and you see there’s a sunken island out there, you can literally drive right to it on the ice using either of the two technologies,” Weigel said.

Weigel added that there is something anglers need to keep in mind when using this GPS technology on their favorites fishing waters.

“They imply they’re absolute,” he said. “In other words, when it says it’s 15 feet deep, we say that there’s 15-foot depth in that general area. But folks need to keep in mind that their GPS’s are plus or minus 10 feet at the best.”

What’s more certain, if Mother Nature allows, are the opportunities afforded ice anglers this winter across North Dakota’s landscape.

“There have never been stronger populations of fish than there is now,” Weigel said. “It’s amazing. And we literally have twice the number of fishing lakes as there once was.”

NDGF and USDA Partner to Help Landowners with CRP Offers


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for its voluntary Conservation Reserve Program. Private landowners can sign up at their local USDA Farm Service Agency office through Feb. 12.

This popular USDA program provides options for environmentally sensitive land by reducing soil erosion and improving water quality, but it also provides significant benefits to wildlife populations through the habitat it creates. The habitat created by CRP makes it a great fit for the Game and Fish Department’s Private Land Open To Sportsmen program.

“Game and Fish has partnered with the USDA Farm Service Agency to help producers learn more about CRP and options available to them,” said North Dakota Game and Fish private land section supervisor Kevin Kading.

Landowners are encouraged to visit the Department's CRP Contact page to answer a few questions that will direct them to their local FSA county office for more detailed information and to apply for CRP. Landowners can also request to be contacted by a Game and Fish private land biologist to learn more about additional incentives and cost-share for allowing walk-in hunting access to their CRP through PLOTS.


Hunting and Fishing Legislation on Game and Fish Website

ND State Capitol

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will once again track hunting and fishing issues during the 2021 legislative session.

Interested outdoor enthusiasts can follow proposed outdoors-related bills online.

A brief description of each bill will be included. To view each bill in its entirety, click on the linked bill number.

Fish Caught Deep

Northern pike being pulled out of ie hole

A push to encourage open-water anglers to keep fish caught from deep waters should carry over into the ice fishing season, state fisheries biologists say.

Catch-and-release fishing, no matter the time of year, is discouraged for fish caught in 25 feet or more of water because fish reeled in from those depths have a greater chance of dying if released.

Fish caught in deep water won’t likely survive because of the extreme change in water pressure, which causes the swim bladder to expand. Fish can no longer control their balance in the water column when this happens. Other internal injuries, such as rupturing of organs and bleeding, are also likely for fish hauled from deep waters.

Devils Lake ice anglers commonly catch yellow perch in 30-45 feet of water during the winter months. Of course, this practice also translates to other deep water bodies around the state.

Anglers targeting fish at 25 feet or more should make the commitment to keep what they catch. And once they reach their limit, anglers should stop fishing at that depth to avoid killing more than their limit of fish.

Tentative Season Opening Dates

To help North Dakota hunters prepare for hunting seasons in 2021, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department annually provides its best estimate for opening dates for the coming year.

Dates become official when approved by governor’s proclamation. Tentative opening dates for 2021 include:

  • Spring turkey – April 10
  • Dove – Sept. 1
  • Deer and pronghorn bow, mountain lion – Sept. 3
  • Sharptail, Hun, ruffed grouse, squirrel – Sept. 11
  • Youth deer – Sept. 17
  • Youth waterfowl – Sept. 18
  • Early resident waterfowl – Sept. 25
  • Pronghorn gun – Oct. 1
  • Regular waterfowl, youth pheasant – Oct. 2
  • Pheasant, fall turkey – Oct. 9
  • Mink, muskrat, weasel trapping – Oct. 23
  • Deer gun – Nov. 5

Pronghorn Season Statistics


Hunter success during last fall’s pronghorn hunting season was 76%, according to statistics provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Game and Fish issued 1,782 licenses (1,108 lottery and 674 gratis), and 1,572 hunters took 1,199 pronghorns, consisting of 1,044 bucks, 137 does and 18 fawns. Each hunter spent an average of three days afield.

The 2021 pronghorn hunting season will be determined in July.

Fish House Regulations

Ice House

Winter anglers are reminded that any fish house left unoccupied on North Dakota waters must be made from materials that will allow it to float.

A popular question this time of year is if campers qualify as legal fish houses. The answer is the same for any structure taken on the ice – if it’s left unattended, it must be able to float; if it’s not able to float, it must be removed when the angler leaves the ice.

Other fish house regulations include:

  • Fish houses do not require a license.
  • Occupied structures do not require identification. However, any unoccupied fish house must have an equipment registration number issued by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, or the owner’s name, and either address or telephone number, displayed on its outside in readily distinguishable characters at least three inches high.
  • Fish houses may not be placed closer than 50 feet in any direction to another house without consent of the occupant of the other fish house.
  • All unoccupied fish houses must be removed from all waters after midnight, March 15.

Anglers should refer to the 2020-22 North Dakota Fishing Guide for other winter fishing regulations.

Ice Awareness

Considering the unusually warm weather in early December, ice anglers, hunters and trappers are reminded to be aware of ice conditions before traveling onto and across North Dakota waters.

A few reminders include:

  • Edges firm up faster than farther out from shore.
  • Snow insulates ice, which in turn inhibits solid ice formation, hiding cracks, weak and open water areas.
  • Ice can form overnight, causing unstable conditions. Ice thickness is not consistent, as it can vary significantly within a few inches.
  • Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.
  • Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake, and an ice chisel should be used to check ice thickness while moving around.
  • Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.
  • The following minimums are recommended for travel on clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter it’s a good idea to double these figures to be safe: 4 inches for a group walking single file; 6 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8-12 inches for an automobile; and 12-15 inches for a pickup/truck.

And some life-saving safety tips:

  • Wear a personal flotation device and carry a cell phone.
  • Carry ice picks or a set of screwdrivers to pull yourself back on the ice if you fall through.
  • If someone breaks through the ice, call 911 immediately. Rescue attempts should employ a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that’s not possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object. Go to the victim as a last resort, but do this by forming a human chain where rescuers lie on the ice with each person holding the feet of the person in front.
  • To treat hypothermia, replace wet clothing with dry clothing and immediately transport the victim to a hospital.

Order 2021 OUTDOORS Calendars

2021 Calendar Cover

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is taking orders for its North Dakota OUTDOORS calendar, the source for all hunting season and application dates for 2021. Along with outstanding color photographs of North Dakota wildlife and scenery, it also includes sunrise-sunset times and moon phases.

Order online, or send $3 for each, plus $1 postage, to: Calendar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, 100 N. Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58501-5095. Be sure to include a three-line return address with your order, or the post office may not deliver our return mailing.

Watchable Wildlife Checkoff on State Tax Form

North Dakota citizens with an interest in supporting wildlife conservation programs are reminded to look for the Watchable Wildlife checkoff on the state tax form.

The state income tax form gives wildlife enthusiasts an opportunity to support nongame wildlife like songbirds and birds of prey, while at the same time contributing to programs that help everyone enjoy all wildlife.

The checkoff – whether you are receiving a refund or having to pay in – is an easy way to voluntarily contribute to sustain this long standing program. In addition, direct donations to the program are accepted any time of year.

To learn more about Watchable Wildlife program activities online.

Coyote Catalog

Landowners can sign up on the Department of Agriculture website. Hunters and trappers can sign up at the Game and Fish website.

Anyone who registered for the Coyote Catalog in the past must register again to activate their names on the database.

Throughout winter, hunters or trappers may receive information on participating landowners, and they should contact landowners to make arrangements.

Landowners experiencing coyote depredation of livestock should first contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

The Coyote Catalog will remain active through March 31, 2021.

For more information, contact Ryan Herigstad at Game and Fish, 701-595-4463 or; or Jamie Good, at the Department of Agriculture, 701-328-2659 or

Staff Notes

Mike Anderson (left), Terry Steinwand (right)

Anderson Named Game and Fish Employee of the Year

Mike Anderson, video project supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, received the agency’s Director’s Award for professional excellence at the Department’s annual staff meeting in December.

Terry Steinwand, Game and Fish director, said COVID-19 did not stop him from missing a weekly assignment or deadline.

“From traveling to every corner of the state to take his next photo, film his next video, conduct his next interview or package his next story, Mike was able to deliver more than 100 programs this year alone, because of his commitment and passion for his job, this agency and his peers,” Steinwand said. “He is the consummate professional. He spends countless hours knowing and understanding the subject at hand, and he wants this to come across to the viewers, and it does.”

Game and Fish Recognizes Employee Efforts

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand recently honored employees with performance-based awards. Steinwand presented the following employees with special recognition awards during the Department’s virtual staff meeting in December.

  • Ashley Peterson, photographer/videographer, Bismarck, was recognized for her efforts in livestreaming the spring and fall advisory board meetings.
  • Bob Frohlich, fisheries development supervisor, Bismarck, was recognized for fisheries development projects, specifically with state, federal and local permitting, and federal grant funding and construction plans.
  • Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist, Dickinson, was recognized for his leadership in coordinating a bighorn sheep translocation from Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in Montana to Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

In addition to special recognition recipients, Drew Johnson, district game warden, Finley, was named North Dakota’s Boating Officer of the Year. His district includes several smaller lakes and reservoirs, along with the Red River. Chief game warden Scott Winkelman said warden Johnson’s work ethic and attitude are exemplified in his passion for boating law enforcement.