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Bull elk


2023 Hunting Season Outlook




Man, the countryside really greened-up this spring. North Dakota’s landscape and available habitat look impressive.

As winter finally broke, the token ring-necked roosters took to the high ground on my driveway to meet for their spring ritual. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were thinking the same thing as my neighbor and me: “Well, we survived winter, but that sucked.”

While it’s easy to forget about winter when it looks this nice out, we need to realize that it influenced wildlife and will for some time. Mother Nature pointed out pretty clearly this winter that habitat is in short supply across much of North Dakota. Populations that were impacted obviously were short on winter habitat, but time will show that all habitats are in short supply as populations will be slow to rebound. That being said, habitat available on the landscape today looks pretty darn good with the welcome moisture winter left and timely spring rains that many received.

With winter being as harsh as it was, it didn’t have the same effect on all wildlife equally.

In the big game realm, deer took it the hardest. Game and Fish Department biologists and pilots got a firsthand look as they completed a lot of aerial surveys this winter because snow conditions allowed. And the survey data showed a reduction in deer numbers, resulting in a license allocation reduction by more than 10,000 licenses.

Elk, moose and bighorn sheep have an easier time navigating bad winters and their populations held on pretty well. As I write this, Department crews are in the air once again looking at the pronghorn populations to determine their status moving forward. Of course, the harshness of winter will have a negative influence on fawn production for all big game species, and it’s just a matter of what extent that impact will be.

On the upland game side of things, we have been pleasantly surprised so far by their winter survival. Our early spring counts have indicated an increase across almost all species when compared to 2022. And in those areas where quality habitat is available, we should be looking at some good nesting and brood rearing opportunities.

Also of note, the Department has a unique wild turkey study going on which will give us some good information moving forward on fine-tuning our management of this species.

Waterfowl are certainly dependent on the water on the landscape. Not just big water, but the small wetlands that go dry periodically yet play a significant role in the life cycles of ducks and geese. Water conditions started out pretty good and if nesting and brood rearing don’t have any setbacks, we should be in decent shape. Waterfowl can respond quickly to habitat, but with the reduction in nesting and brood rearing habitat over the last number of years, some populations of duck species are not bouncing back like we would like. We’ll see if that changes in summer.

As a wildlife biologist and hunter, I long for the days I can try to figure out how to take advantage of all the extra hunting opportunities when populations are high. However, I will still be the guy who harps on the need for habitat and habitat improvements for the rest of my career.

Knowing that, the Department is working to develop programs and initiatives to help this along. Also, we are looking for ways these habitat features on the landscape can be involved in an agricultural system. This means those people doing the habitat work on their land find it beneficial for their operations for reasons other than just wildlife. I believe this is the best way to maintain the longevity of these important habitat features.

All in all, things look to be OK as far as opportunities on the landscape to get out and enjoy fall hunting. Your exact critter of preference might be tougher to find, but I would encourage all to try adding something new to your hunting bag this year if your number one option isn’t plentiful. Who knows, it may become your next annual hunting pursuit.

Good luck and happy hunting.

CASEY ANDERSON is the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief.

Pheasant flying

Upland and Small Game

--- Ring-necked Pheasants ---
Opens: Oct. 7
Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

While North Dakota’s pheasant population had to endure a severe winter in 2022-23, with most of the state receiving more than 100 inches of snow, the results of this spring’s crowing count survey surprisingly showed higher numbers of breeding roosters throughout the entire pheasant range. The number of roosters heard calling was up anywhere from 10-38% throughout the state’s good pheasant range, which reinforces Department results from last summer’s roadside brood counts that showed improved production of all upland birds.

Cover for nesting hens was above average in spring due to the excess of moisture from snowmelt and timely rains. Habitat was lush and green for early nesting attempts to be successful.

As of this writing in mid-August, biologists continue to conduct late summer roadside brood counts, and preliminary numbers indicate hunters will see an increased number of birds this fall compared to 2022.

As always, hunters need to be mobile and willing to move to different locations to find localized optimal hunting opportunities. It’s expected the northwestern and southwestern parts of the state will offer the best hunting opportunities this fall.

Rodney Gross, Upland Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Youth Pheasant ---
(For legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger.)
Opens: Sept. 30
Closes: Oct. 1
Daily limit: 3
Possession limit: 6
Shooting hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

--- Wild Turkeys ---
Opens: Oct. 14
Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The turkey population in many of North Dakota’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 favorable for a successful turkey hatch, and Department surveys showed that.

Turkeys showed good production last spring, coupled with a high breeding population of hens, so fall numbers were higher in parts of the state. The eastern part of the state has seen decreasing numbers of birds the last few years in response to the loss of quality turkey habitat. Early reports from brood surveys showed a slight increase in the number of turkey broods on the ground in the west. It’s expected turkey production this year will be similar to 2022.

The Department increased licenses for wild turkeys slightly this fall in an attempt to give hunters more opportunities in areas where turkey populations are too high for management goals. The central and west-central parts of the state along river corridors will provide some of the better turkey hunting opportunities in the state this fall.

Rodney Gross

--- Ruffed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

This year Department personnel were unable to conduct ruffed grouse surveys in the Pembina Hills due to road closures from late snow depths. However, biologists conducted surveys in the Turtle Mountains and documented a 46% increase from 2022 in the number of drums heard.

The Turtle Mountains has not had a peak in ruffed grouse since 2009-10, but this is the third year in a row with increases in the number of drums heard per stop. The Pembina Hills had a recent peak in 2020, and hunters reported seeing fair numbers in 2022.

Ruffed grouse are an uncommon grouse in North Dakota because they live almost exclusively in aspen forests. They are only found in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills. Although there was a small population in the J. Clark Salyer Wildlife Refuge (McHenry County), biologists have not heard ruffed grouse there since 2006.

Jesse Kolar, Upland Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

--- Sharp-tailed Grouse ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

The sharp-tailed grouse index (weighted average by area surveyed) for 2023 was unchanged statewide from 2022, but southwestern North Dakota (up 19%) carried the rest of the state (minus 15% in the Prairie Pothole district, minus 3% in the Drift Prairie and minus 21% at the Red River Valley/Grand Forks district).

Declines in eastern North Dakota were likely due to the prolonged winter, but the declines may be exaggerated due to poor access. Many of our survey blocks were inaccessible during the peak lekking period due to lingering snow.

Department reproduction surveys are showing more broods and/or larger brood sizes in all districts (up 14% so far). Conditions during roadside brood routes have been excellent this year, which contributes to seeing more birds, but the average brood size and chick-to-adult ratios are not as affected by conditions, so biologists are optimistic looking at a 14% increase in brood size and 1.6 chicks per adult grouse.

Similar to 2022, nesting conditions were favorable this year, but unlike 2022, biologists were seeing older chicks on the earlier brood routes, and it appears the hatch was earlier. Since chick survival increases with age, we are optimistic that reproduction should more than make up for any regional declines observed during our spring surveys.

Statewide, sharptail populations continue rebounding from lows in 2017-18, and they are just about back to or above the 10-year average across the state.

Sharptails nest almost exclusively in native prairie, pastures and planted grasses, so even though they move between nesting season and fall, the best places to find them are in areas near grasslands resembling native prairies. In the fall they can often be found in shrub patches on hillsides, alfalfa fields, sunflower fields and near harvested canola fields.

Hunters can request prepaid wing envelopes here.

Jesse Kolar

--- Hungarian Partridge ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

While the Department does not have a spring index for partridge, the numbers continue to surprise biologists with high rates of reproduction based on late summer roadside counts. The statewide average brood size by mid-August was around 11 chicks per brood, and 2.8 chicks per adult. Partridge reproduction has been above average for the past five years, and hunters, farmers, ranchers and others have commented on how good their numbers are looking.

Hunters rarely go “partridge hunting,” but similar to last year, it’s possible that upland hunters could expect to put up a covey of partridge every 1-2 days. These numbers are not quite what they were in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they continue to be higher than the past 20 years.

Partridge overlap with pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse in North Dakota, but their preferred habitat is weedy edges, so focus on rock pile islands in the middle of harvested fields, lone trees or shrub patches in ditches, field edges, fence lines and so on.

Jesse Kolar

--- Tree Squirrels ---
Opens: Sept. 9
Closes: Feb. 29, 2024
Daily Limit: 4
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

Tree squirrels may be taken statewide with shotguns, rimfire, pre-charged pneumatic air guns and muzzleloading firearms, or with bows and arrows legal for taking upland game.

Mule deer buck

Big Game

--- White-tailed Deer ---
Archery Opens: Sep. 1
Archery Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Youth Gun Season Opens: Sept. 15
Youth Gun Season Closes: Sept. 24
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 10
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 26
Muzzleloader Opens: Dec. 1
Muzzleloader Closes: Dec. 17

The Game and Fish Department made available 53,400 licenses for the 2023 deer gun hunting season, a decrease of 10,800 following a brutal winter that arrived in November and hung around until April.

The statewide hunter success rate in 2022 was 53%, which was 4% lower than 2021 and below the goal of 70%. Low hunter success was likely due in large part to high winds and blizzard conditions during the first two weekends of the season.

Department biologists conducted aerial surveys on all hunting units in the state during the winter of 2023. Overall, deer numbers were up in the south central portion of the state and generally down for much of the remainder of the state. The Wing-Tuttle monitoring block (units 2J1 and 2J2) was flown in January and again in April and deer numbers had declined by 53% during that time-period.

With lower deer numbers, biologists made what might be perceived as modest reductions in licenses numbers. State Century Code requires that all landowners with more than 150 acres are entitled to receive a deer license, and in 2023 it was anticipated about 12,300 landowners would request a deer gun license. Knowing that gratis hunters tend to be less successful, and to ensure that licenses were available to non-gratis hunters, an overall reduction of 17% was made.

Licenses made available in some units may be perceived by some to be higher than appropriate. Deer hunting unit 2E might serve as an example where 300 (21%) fewer licenses were made available; of the 1,100 deer gun licenses made available in 2023, it was anticipated 640 would go to gratis hunters.

A total of 24 deer harvested in 2022-23 tested positive for chronic wasting disease, with CWD being detected for the first time in four hunting units (3A3, 3E1, 3F1 and 4F). From the 2022 hunter-harvested surveillance, CWD positive deer were also detected in 3A1 (eight mule deer), 3A3 (one mule deer), 3B1 (one mule deer), 3E1 (one mule deer), 3E2 (one mule deer), 3F1 (one mule deer), 3F2 (seven mule deer and one white-tailed deer), 4B (two mule deer) and 4F (one mule deer).

Surveillance will continue in these units to better understand CWD prevalence. As a result, this altered deer management strategies in these and surrounding units. The goal is to minimize the CWD prevalence rate and reduce the spread of the disease outside infected units; therefore, a more aggressive harvest strategy remains in parts of the state. Baiting restrictions for deer now include hunting units 1, 2B, 3A1, 3A2, 3A3, 3A4, 3B1, 3C, 3D1, 3D2, 3E1, 3E2, 3F1, 3F2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F.

Quality deer habitat is not as abundant as in the past, which has limited the potential for population recovery, particularly in the eastern third of the state. This is due in part to these hunting units having lost more than 70% of CRP grass cover. If CRP contracts continue to expire, by 2026 we will have lost 85% of the once 3.4 million acres present in 2007.

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

A summary of deer licenses for 2023:

  • Any Antlered licenses decreased by 3,650.
  • Any Antlerless licenses decreased by 3,050.
  • Antlered white-tailed deer licenses decreased by 300.
  • Antlerless white-tailed deer licenses decreased by 300.
  • 1,022 muzzleloader licenses available in 2023 – 511 antlered white-tailed deer licenses and 511 antlerless white-tailed deer licenses. This is a decrease of 145 muzzleloader licenses from 2022.
  • 160 “I” licenses available for the youth deer hunting season, a decrease of 145 from 2022. “I” 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 valid for any deer statewide except antlered mule deer in the above restricted units.
  • 862 nonresident any deer archery licenses available in 2023, up 52 from 2022. The number of nonresident any deer archery licenses will be 337 in 2024.
  • Residents ages 11, 12 and 13 who hold a statewide antlerless white-tailed deer license are no longer restricted to the youth deer season. This license is now valid during the regular deer gun season.

Bill Jensen, Big Game Management Biologist, Bismarck

--- Mule Deer ---
Archery Opens: Sep. 1
Archery Closes: Jan. 7, 2024
Regular Gun Season Opens: Nov. 10
Regular Gun Season Closes: Nov. 26

Mule deer declined across the western edge of the state following extreme winter conditions that started in November and lasted into April. The 2023 spring index for mule deer in the badlands was 29% lower than the 2022 index and 5% below the long-term average. This was the lowest spring index since 2014.

Consequently, licenses were significantly reduced for 2023. The Game and Fish Department made available 1,600 antlered licenses and 650 antlerless licenses in 2023, which is 3,500 fewer licenses than 2022.

A mule deer buck license remains one of the most difficult licenses to draw but for those lucky few, it should result in a very high-quality hunt. Hunter success for mule deer buck hunters was 64% in 2022.

There remain many challenges facing the future population recovery of mule deer in the badlands. Encroachment of juniper in mule deer habitat, direct and indirect habitat loss due to oil development, predators and weather, including extreme winters, are all challenges facing long-term population recovery of mule deer in the badlands.

Bruce Stillings, Big Game Management Supervisor, Dickinson

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

North Dakota hunters will have significantly fewer opportunities to hunt pronghorn this year due to a large population decline following one of the state’s most extreme winters. Significant snowfall fell in early November and winter conditions that persisted into April put extreme stress on the population. Losses due to malnutrition were significant based on results from the Department’s 2023 aerial survey.

Biologists conducted aerial surveys of 13,340 square miles in early July and found that the number of pronghorns in the state decreased by 40% from last year. Pronghorn reductions followed the same pattern as mule deer where animals in the northern most range experienced the largest declines. Pronghorn declines ranged from 60% in the North Missouri management region to 15% in Western Bowman management region.

The extreme winter weather also negatively affected fawn production in summer with 43 fawns per 100 does observed during the aerial survey. This was the second lowest year of fawn production on record.

Pronghorn hunting licenses and open hunting units were reduced to account for this change in the population. Hunting units 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4C, 5A and 7A are open in 2023. The remaining hunting units are closed due to low population levels not able to support a harvest at this time.

The Department made available 420 licenses in 2023, 1,550 fewer than 2022. Lottery licenses can be used during the archery season (Sept. 1 (noon) – Sept. 24) with archery equipment or during the rifle season (Oct. 6-Oct. 22) using legal firearm or archery equipment.

The 2022 season was successful with 1,650 hunters harvesting 1,212 pronghorns for a success rate of 74%.

Bruce Stillings

--- Bighorn Sheep ---

Bighorn Sheep Season Details

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 2022 bighorn sheep survey, completed by recounting lambs in March, revealed a record 347 bighorn sheep in the grasslands of western North Dakota, up 4% from 2021 and 15% above the five-year average. The count surpassed the previous record of 335 bighorns in 2021.

Altogether, biologists counted 96 rams, 206 ewes and 45 lambs. Not included are approximately 40 bighorn sheep in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and bighorns introduced to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in 2020.

Big game biologists were pleased to see an increase in the survey for the fifth consecutive year.

The northern badlands population increased 4% from 2021 and was the highest count on record. The southern badlands population was unchanged at the lowest level since bighorns were reintroduced there in 1966.

Biologists noted they were encouraged to see the count of adult rams down just slightly from last year, and adult ewes were at record numbers. Unfortunately, following a record summer count of lambs, winter survival was only 54%, the lowest level on record and well below the long-term average. The lamb recruitment rate was also near a record low. Nearly six months of harsh winter conditions was the likely cause of poor winter survival of lambs.

Department biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer, and then recount lambs the following March as they approach 1 year of age to determine recruitment.

Department staff, in conjunction with biologists from the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division, also reported the bighorn sheep translocated in January 2020 from Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana to the Fort Berthold Reservation performed exceptionally well their third year in the state, as the population has nearly tripled.

There are currently about 470 bighorn sheep in the populations managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, National Park Service and the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division. The next benchmark is 500 bighorns in the state, which seemed improbable just a few years ago.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is open in 2023 with six licenses — five lottery and one auction. Game and Fish issued five licenses in 2022 and all hunters were successful in harvesting a ram.

Brett Wiedmann, Big Game Management Biologist, Dickinson

--- Moose ---

Moose Season Details

The number of once-in-a-lifetime licenses for moose was reduced in 2023 for this popular big game species. The reduction was due to an observed decrease in the population based on winter aerial surveys, a decrease in hunter success and a winter tick outbreak the previous spring that impacted the population.

The reductions are from the northwest region for moose management units M9, M10 and M11. The number of moose licenses was unchanged for moose units M6 and M8 based on a stable population and good hunter success. The boundary for moose unit M6 was expanded to include the rest of the state. This expansion will provide additional opportunities for moose hunting in those areas of the state where moose have been observed for the past several years.

Licenses in unit M5 increased slightly due to a stable population and several consecutive years with all licenses being filled in the unit. Numbers of moose continue to remain lower 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 257 licenses for 2023. Expectations for the season are high as success for moose historically runs above 90%.

Jason Smith, Big Game Management Biologist, Jamestown

--- Elk ---

Elk Season Details

North Dakota’s 2023 elk season features an increase in licenses from 2022. The primary increase in licenses was for units E1W and E1E in response to an increasing elk population in those areas and landowner tolerance concerns.

Licenses in elk units E2, E3, E4 and E6 will remain the same as 2022. Elk numbers in these units appear stable based on aerial surveys of core habitat and minimum counts of winter herds.

Game and Fish issued 603 licenses in 2023. Elk hunting in North Dakota can be challenging, both mentally and physically. Although high compared to other western states, success rates for North Dakota elk hunters averaged just over 60% the past five years. Antlerless licenses are easier to draw but are the most difficult to fill. Hunters with antlerless licenses should be prepared for a challenging hunt, with many days in the field.

The season outlook for 2023 is expected to be good, with success similar to previous years.

As always, making landowner contacts and preseason scouting is recommended and essential to a successful elk hunt.

Jason Smith

Dog among decoys carrying harvested duck

Migratory Birds

--- Ducks and Geese ---

While North Dakota wetlands dried considerably during late summer and fall of 2022, habitat conditions improved significantly in 2023 following abundant snowfall throughout winter and widespread rain in early May. Those areas in the state most influenced by this moisture held the best potential for breeding ducks.

The Department’s 76th annual breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 3.4 million ducks in the state. Wetland conditions across the state during the survey varied from fair to excellent, logging the seventh highest wetland index in the history of the survey. Overall, this year’s breeding duck index was the 23rd highest in the 76 years of the survey, nearly identical to last year, and 39% above the long-term average.

With the exception of blue-winged teal, mallards and scaup, all of North Dakota’s primary breeding duck species had indices that increased from what was observed in 2022. Mallards were down 10% from their 2022 estimate and represented their 27th highest index on record. Green-winged teal increased 71%, while wigeon and pintails increased 58% and 47%, respectively. Other species’ indices increased from 12% (shovelers) to 19% (canvasbacks).

Most species’ indices remained above their 75-year averages. However, some species are still at, or below their long-term average, most notably pintails (minus 0.4%) and scaup ( minus 20%). Indices above the long-term average ranged from plus 21% (wigeon) to plus 112% (redheads); mallards were 32% above their long-term average.

After two very wet springs, the number of broods observed during the Department’s July brood survey was up substantially (80%) from last year’s count and 88% above the 1965-2022 average. The average brood size was 6.54 ducklings, down 9% from last year’s estimate. Diving ducks, which nest over water, had a banner year with record numbers of broods observed for canvasbacks and redheads. Overall, diving ducks comprised about 22.1% of the broods observed this year, compared to the long-term average of 8.6%.

Following the seventh highest wetland index on the May survey, North Dakota’s landscape dried up considerably following another very wet spring. July wetland counts were down 33% from last year, and 25% below the long-term average. After a wet start to May, precipitation subsided considerably. Duck brood habitats dwindled during summer, with the most drying occurring in the northern tier of the state.

Overall, the fall flight forecast of ducks from North Dakota is up 23% from last year and is the 15th highest fall flight from the state on record.

Numbers of temperate-breeding Canada geese, Western Prairie Canada geese and arctic nesting Tallgrass Prairie Canada geese, snow geese and Ross’s geese all remain high, despite declines in abundance of central arctic light geese in recent years. Production of Canada geese in the state was strong this year, and large-type Canada geese in the state continue to be abundant. Unusually warm weather in the arctic created some uncertainty around goose production, but limited observations indicated average production overall. More is expected to be learned about these populations after monitoring efforts during late summer and early fall.

Hunters should expect favorable conditions for waterfowl hunting in North Dakota this year. Canada goose hunting should be good, but timing of crop harvests is always a wildcard for early season hunting. Canada geese probably won’t start grouping up and moving around much until September this year, due to late reproduction efforts and later crop harvests.

We do not expect an overly strong duck migration due to relatively dry conditions in Prairie Canada. Hunters should take advantage of early-migrants like blue-winged teal during the first two weeks of the season as teal production appeared to be good. North Dakota waterfowl hunting seasons are always affected by fall weather, and weather patterns from early to late seasons usually are not consistent from year to year. Another increase in the percentage of young birds in the fall flight this year should help hunter success.

The Department’s fall wetland survey will give one last look at wetland conditions in September.

Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor, Bismarck

--- Youth Waterfowl Season ---

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

Opens: Sept. 16
Closes: Sept. 17
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: Ducks and geese – same as regular season. (Does not include bonus blue-winged teal.)

--- 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. 16
Closes: Sept. 17
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 Hunting ---
Opens: Aug. 15 (statewide)
Closes: Sept. 7 (Missouri River Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 15 (Western Canada Goose Zone), Sept. 22 (Eastern Canada Goose Zone)
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: 15
Possession Limit: 45

--- Canada Geese Regular Season ---
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 29 (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. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

--- Light (Snow) Geese (Statewide) ---
Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 29
Daily Limit: 50, no possession limit
Shooting Hours for all Geese: Half-hour before sunrise to 2 p.m. Exception: Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset on all Saturdays and Wednesdays through the end of each season. Starting Nov. 26, all-day hunting is also allowed on Sundays through the end of each season.

--- Regular Duck Season ---

Low Plains Unit

Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

High Plains Unit

Opens: Sept. 23 (residents only), Sept. 30 (nonresidents)
Closes: Dec. 3
Opens: Dec. 9
Closes: Dec. 31
Shooting-hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Daily Limit: Six ducks (including mergansers), which may include no more than five mallards (two of which may be hens), one pintail, two redheads, two canvasbacks, one 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. 23 through Oct. 8.
Possession Limit: Three times the daily limit.

--- Sandhill Cranes ---
Opens: Zone 1 and 2: Sept. 16
Closes: Zone 1 and 2: Nov. 12
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 2 p.m. daily.

The mid-continent population of sandhill cranes is in good shape heading into fall. The northern Great Plains experienced a cold start to spring this year, which slowed down the northern migration of most birds. As a result, few sandhill cranes 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. Survey numbers have yet to be finalized for 2023, but initial reports indicate a strong survey with numbers exceeding the 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 now. Wetland conditions throughout much of North Dakota are also in good shape, which will provide plenty of options for roosting sandhill cranes during the fall migration.

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 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 an abundant breeding population of mourning doves and based on observations throughout the state, production was fair to good this year. Weather was favorable during the nesting season, with relatively dry conditions and few severe storms, which likely led to good recruitment. The Game and Fish Department also tallies mourning doves during late summer roadside counts, but numbers have yet to be finalized. Although survey numbers are not currently available, age ratios of juvenile to adult birds captured at banding stations in the state were indicative of good production this year.

Dove hunters should find good to excellent 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 oil-seed fields that are also near shelterbelts or other diverse stands of trees. Doves also need to be within a few miles of water sources. Despite late planting, harvest of small grains and oil-seed crops are projected to be near average, so hunters should have plenty of places to choose from in September for field hunting.

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, which involves clipping one wing from each dove shot early in the season to send in for analysis. Hunters are also reminded to look for banded mourning doves in their bag and report bands directly to the Bird Banding Laboratory website at

Andrew Dinges

--- Crows ---
Fall Season Opens: Aug. 19
Closes: Nov. 6
Spring Season Opens: March 9, 2024
Closes: April 21, 2024
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. 9
Closes: Dec. 3
Daily Limit: 8
Possession Limit: 24
Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

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

Mountain lion


Overall, furbearer populations remain relatively similar to 2022 and there are no significant changes to the furbearer regulations this fall. Harvest limits, timing of seasons and zones are all the same.

Spring surveys indicated coyotes remain the bright spot in North Dakota and were largely the most abundant furbearer seen by observers. Compared to last year, however, their numbers were relatively unchanged and even slightly below the 20-year average.

Foxes continue to be outcompeted by coyotes most places, although they are holding steady in the Prairie Pothole Region. And muskrats continue to struggle to reach higher numbers with only the eastern half of the state showing much promise where their numbers were similar to last year. Raccoons may be the highlight this season, with their survey numbers being as good as they get up here on the northern fringe of their range.

Last year, hunters and trappers took 25 bobcats (21 in Zone 1 and four in Zone 2), 21 fishers, 24 river otters and 12 mountain lions in Zone 1 (four in the early-season and seven in the late-season) and one mountain lion in Zone 2.

Because many furbearer species are difficult to survey due to their secretive nature and naturally low densities, we encourage anyone to report their sighting(s) of black bears, bobcats, fishers, martens, mountain lions, river otters and swift foxes. Information about sightings can be submitted online at

Hunters are also reminded that only coyotes, foxes (red or gray), raccoons and beavers are allowed to be hunted at night. And the dates for hunting coyotes and foxes at night are restricted to November 27 to March 15, 2024.

Directions for releasing dogs from traps.

Stephanie Tucker, Game Management Section Leader, Bismarck

--- Mountain Lion Hunting ---
Zone 1 (early)
Opens: Sep. 1
Closes: Nov. 26
Zone 1 (late)
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 31, 2024
Zone 2
Opens: Sep. 1
Closes: March 31, 2024

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

There is no mountain lion harvest limit in Zone 2.

Mountain lions may be hunted statewide by residents using legal firearms or archery equipment during regular hunting hours. Beginning Nov. 27, mountain lions may also be hunted by pursuing with dogs. Cable devices and traps are not allowed. The limit is one lion per hunter. Kittens (lions with visible spots), or females accompanied by kittens, may not be taken.

Hunters must either contact the local game warden or Department field office or register their harvest online via their account and make arrangements to have their lion inspected and tagged.

--- River Otter Trapping or Cable Devices ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

Limit of one per person. Total harvest limit of 25 statewide.

Trappers must either contact the local game warden or Department field office or register their harvest online via their account to report their harvest within 12 hours and make arrangements to have their river otter tagged. For more information, see the North Dakota 2023-24 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

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

Open statewide except for Bottineau and Rolette counties. Limit one per person. Trappers must contact the local game warden or Department field office or register their harvest online via their account to report their harvest within 12 hours and make arrangements to have their fisher tagged. For more information, see the North Dakota 2023-24 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

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

For more information, see the North Dakota 2023-24 hunting and trapping guide.

--- Beaver and Raccoon Cable Devices on Land ---
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

From March 16, 2024, through May 10, 2024, cable devices must be within 50 feet of water; 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. 28
Hunting and Cable Devices
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

Weasels may be hunted statewide with rimfire or pre-charged pneumatic air guns of .22 caliber or smaller and archery equipment.

--- Muskrat and Mink Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Trapping Opens: Oct. 28
Hunting and Cable Devices
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: May 10, 2024

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, 2024, non-floating 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; foothold traps must be submerged under water at all times or must have a protective covering (except when used on float sets); 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, 2024, float sets must have a protective covering.

Mink and muskrat may be hunted statewide with rimfire cartridges or pre-charged pneumatic air guns of .22 caliber or smaller and archery equipment.

--- Bobcat Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Zone 1
Hunting and Trapping Opens: Nov. 11
Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

Beginning Nov. 27, bobcats may also be trapped using cable devices and hunted by pursing with dogs.

The pelt and carcass of each bobcat taken in Zone 1 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.

Zone 2
Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

Limit is one bobcat per person in Zone 2 and total harvest limit is eight.

In Zone 2, anyone who harvests a bobcat must either contact the local game warden or Department field office or register their harvest online via their account to report their harvest within 12 hours and make arrangements to have their bobcat tagged.

For more information, see the 2023-24 Hunting and Trapping guide.

--- Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Day hunting and trapping opens: Year-round
Night hunting and cable devices opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024

Red fox, gray fox and coyote may be hunted at any hour from Nov. 27 through March 15, 2024. 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 the night hunting season. Hunters are prohibited from using archery equipment (including crossbows) for night hunting until after the close of the archery deer season.

--- Badger Trapping, Hunting or Cable Devices ---
Hunting and trapping opens: Year-round
Cable Devices Opens: Nov. 27
Closes: March 15, 2024