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News Releases

North Dakota Game and Fish Department

North Dakota Game and Fish Department

News Releases

May Highlights Safe Boating

A week-long national safe boating public awareness campaign is May 18-24, an annual event that serves to educate boaters and water users heading into summer.

A boat should have enough U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets on board for all passengers. North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. The law also requires all personal watercraft users to wear a life jacket, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices.

However, state law allows an individual engaged in barefoot skiing or surfing to wear a wet suit (a life preserver must be on board the towing vessel), and a person who is at least 16 years of age can windsurf or boardsail without wearing a PFD.

Water users should make sure to wear life jackets that are the appropriate size and in good condition. Failure to wear a personal flotation device is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents.

Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger than zippers upon impact with water. Anglers and people paddling a canoe, kayak or paddleboard should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for an entire outing.

It is also important that children wear a PFD while swimming. Swimmers should know the water’s depth, as serious injuries can occur from diving. Large objects hidden below the water’s surface can lead to significant injury.

North Dakota boaters are also reminded that marine VHF radios are an important part of boat safety that should not be improperly used by operators. These radios are intended for boat operators in distress and facing an emergency.

Regulations to help ensure safe boating this summer are found in the North Dakota Boat and Water Safety Guide.

2023 Upland Game Seasons Summarized

North Dakota’s 2023 pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge harvests were up from 2022, according to the state Game and Fish Department.

Upland game biologist RJ Gross said the overall harvest was likely a result of more hunters, more trips and more birds in the population.

“Despite enduring one of the highest snowfall totals in history (winter 2022-23), we anticipated an increase in upland bird harvests based on increases in all our metrics (number of birds, broods, brood size and age ratio) during our late summer roadside counts,” Gross said.

Last year, 53,819 pheasant hunters (up 5%) harvested 319,287 roosters (up 11%), compared to 51,270 hunters and 286,970 roosters in 2022.

Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken were Hettinger, Divide, Burleigh, Williams and Stark.

A total of 21,512 grouse hunters (up 5%) harvested 67,710 sharp-tailed grouse (up 8%), compared to 20,461 hunters and 62,640 sharptails in 2022.

Counties with the highest percentage of sharptails taken were Divide, Hettinger, Williams, McLean and Bowman.

Last year, 20,313 hunters (up 6%) harvested 67,481 gray partridge (up 24%). In 2022, 19,125 hunters harvested 54,553 partridge.

Counties with the highest percentage of gray partridge taken were Stark, McLean, Hettinger, Williams and Divide.

Fish Challenge Open

North Dakota is home to a wide variety of fish species and the state Game and Fish Department fisheries division works hard to stock waters across the state for angler enjoyment.

To encourage exploration of the state’s fisheries, anglers fishing in North Dakota are invited to complete the third annual Fish Challenge.

New this year, anglers can choose to complete the Rough Fish Challenge by catching a bullhead, carp and sucker.

In addition, anglers can complete last year’s Sportfish Challenge by catching a bluegill, walleye, bass and trout, or the inaugural Classic Challenge requiring a northern pike, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and channel catfish.

Either way, the process is simple – snap a photo of each and submit your entry on the North Dakota Game and Fish website,, now through Aug. 15.

Anglers who complete a challenge will receive a decal and certificate.

Mule Deer Survey Completed

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual mule deer survey, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population is 1% higher than last year but 4% below the long-term average.

Biologists counted 2,047 mule deer in 286.3 square miles. The overall mule deer density in the badlands was 7.1 deer per square mile.

Bruce Stillings, department big game management supervisor, said mule deer densities remained the same compared to 2023 following last year’s record low fawn production, reduced gun harvest and a mild winter in 2023-24.

“The 2024 spring survey results were largely influenced by the 2022-23 record-setting harsh winter, which resulted in mule deer does being in poor body condition last spring and record low fawn production in 2023,” Stillings said. “This past mild winter with higher survival helped offset lack of fawns from the previous two years, which led to mule deer populations being similar to last year.”

Biologists are encouraged that last winter’s mild conditions could result in higher fawn production this summer, leading to an increased population in 2025.

Biologists counted 1,735 mule deer in the aerial survey in October to determine demographics in the badlands. The ratio of 57 fawns per 100 does was the lowest recorded since the survey began in 1964, and similar to fawn production in 2011 and 2012 (59/100) following the extreme winters of 2008-10. The 39 bucks per 100 does was similar to 2022 (40/100) and the long-term average (43/100). 

The spring mule deer survey assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. It is conducted after snow melt and before trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation of deer. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.

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 spring of each year to determine deer abundance.

Paddlefish Snagging Season to Close to Additional Harvest

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department announced today that the state's 2024 paddlefish snagging season will close May 15 to any additional harvest to provide long-term protection of the paddlefish population.  

An additional snag-and-release extended season will begin May 16 and run through May 21. Paddlefish snaggers with unused tags can continue snagging during the additional snag-and-release season but must release all fish immediately. If a snagger has already used their tag on a harvested paddlefish, they are not allowed to participate in the additional snag-and-release period.

Snag-and-release will be open in that area of the Missouri River starting on the north shore from the Confluence boat ramp, then east (downstream) to the pipeline crossing (river mile 1577), and on the south shore from the Confluence with the Yellowstone River, then east (downstream) to the pipeline crossing (river mile 1577). 

Paddlefish snagging is allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central time during each day of the additional six-day season. The use or possession of a gaff on snag-and-release days is illegal.

ANS Awareness Week

May 5-11 is Aquatic Nuisance Species Awareness Week in North Dakota in an effort to raise the public’s understanding of the preventative steps recreationists need to follow to stop the introduction and spread of ANS in the state’s waterways.

ANS are nonnative plants, animals or pathogens that can affect the ecology of our lakes and rivers and the economic and recreational value of those waterways. 

Ben Holen, State Game and Fish Department ANS coordinator, said ANS awareness week is comprised of state and federal agencies highlighting the ongoing efforts taking place in North Dakota.

“The pathways of ANS introductions are vast, so it is important to relay ANS awareness across diverse platforms to reach many unique water users,” he said. “Raising awareness is a collaborative approach among partners and conscientious citizens.”

North Dakota currently has low numbers of aquatic nuisance species. Other than zebra mussels, just a few invasive plants and animals – curly leaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, flowering rush, and grass, bighead, silver and common carp – are found in some state waters.

To fight the introduction and spread of unwanted invasives, Holen said some of the shared burden falls on water users. The Game and Fish Department encourages anglers, pleasure boaters and others to clean, drain and dry all equipment after every use. Clean and remove all plants or animals from watercraft or equipment prior to leaving any recreational area. Drain and remove water from all equipment prior to exiting designated access points. Not draining water can be extremely hazardous and may cause negligent transportation of ANS to various locations. Afterwards, verify that all equipment is completely dry before using again.

For more information on aquatic nuisance species, visit the department’s website at

Deer Season Set, Apply Online

North Dakota’s 2024 deer season is set, with 50,100 licenses available to hunters, down 3,300 from last year.

In addition, muzzleloader licenses decreased by 66 and restricted youth antlered mule deer licenses remained the same.

Casey Anderson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife division chief, said population, harvest and survey data indicate the state’s deer population is stable to decreasing in the southeastern part of the state.

“The 2023-24 winter was one of the mildest on record. However, fawn production was reduced following extreme winter conditions during 2022-23, which limited population growth despite reduced gun licenses during the 2023 hunting season,” Anderson said. “Modest license allocations are intended to maintain hunting opportunities while encouraging population growth in the state.”

High-quality deer habitat is not abundant, which has limited the potential for population recovery. If CRP contracts continue to expire, by 2026, Anderson said 85% of the once 3.4 million acres present in 2007 will be lost.

“Habitat does not have to be CRP but needs to fulfill winter and fawning habitat needs in particular for numbers to bounce back effectively,” he said.

The spring mule deer survey showed western North Dakota’s population is 1% higher than last year, following record low fawn production in 2023.

North Dakota’s 2024 deer gun season opens Nov. 8 at noon and continues through Nov. 24.

Applicants for regular deer gun, gratis, youth and muzzleloader can apply online through the Game and Fish Department’s website at The deadline for applying is midnight June 5. 

Those who didn’t apply last year will lose accrued points by not applying or purchasing a point this year.

A general game and habitat license is required when applying for a deer license. If the applicant has not already purchased one for the 2024-25 season, the license will be added to their cart upon checkout. The applicant has the option of having the general game and habitat license refunded if their deer license is not drawn in the lottery.  

Gratis applicants who have previously applied online will automatically have their land description carried forward to this year’s application. However, any changes with land descriptions from last year’s application must be made prior to submitting the 2024 application.

Gratis applications received on or before the regular deer gun lottery application deadline will qualify for an any-legal-deer gratis license. As per state law, gratis applications received after the deadline will be processed based on licenses remaining after the lottery. 

Total deer licenses are determined by harvest rates, aerial surveys, depredation reports, hunter observations, input at advisory board meetings, and comments from the public, landowners and department field staff.

Reminders for Lake Oahe Recreationists

Zebra mussels were confirmed in the lower end of Lake Oahe in South Dakota in December 2023 by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks staff.

As a result, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is working closely with South Dakota to monitor the colonization of mussels in Lake Oahe during the 2024 open water season, according to Ben Holen, Game and Fish Department aquatic nuisance species coordinator.

“The nearest mussel that was found last year was over 100 lake miles south of the North Dakota border, so we will utilize various early detection techniques to track the leading edge of the zebra mussel population as it establishes up the lake,” Holen said.

In addition to monitoring efforts, the Department will launch a digital marketing campaign and will work with the North Dakota Department of Transportation to place highway signage to raise zebra mussel awareness and promote compliance with ANS regulations, Holen said.  Also, expect a higher game warden presence along Lake Oahe this year.

“It is critically important that water recreationists comply with ANS regulations and remember to clean, drain, dry all watercraft and equipment between every use,” he added.

Lake Oahe recreationists and others can find facts about zebra mussels, ANS regulations and decontamination tips at

Navigational Safety Zone Begins Around BNSF Bridge Project

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department, under U.S. Coast Guard authority, has issued a regulatory permit to provide for a safety zone around the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad bridge project on the Missouri River in Bismarck.

The zone is marked with several lighted, floating buoys and encloses an area from the west bank of the Missouri River, north of the project staging area to approximately 400 feet to the east, and then south approximately 600 feet and back to the west bank of the river. The buoys are marked with “No Boats” symbols, yellow flashing lights for night visibility, and always restricts boat access within the enclosed area.

A navigation channel will be maintained between the enclosed area and the east bank of the river.

This permit is in place to protect people and boat traffic during the construction project and will be in effect during the open water months.   

It will be considered a violation if a boat enters the safety zone without authorization. A violation of the regulatory buoys is considered noncriminal and is subject to a fine under North Dakota Administrative Code 30-05-01-07.

ANS Sticker for Watercraft

Boaters with watercraft registered outside the state must have a 2024 aquatic nuisance species sticker before operating watercraft in North Dakota.

State law requires a $15 ANS fee for motorized watercraft not licensed in North Dakota to be paid for each calendar year, and the ANS sticker must be displayed on the watercraft.

In addition, Minnesota anglers launching boats on the North Dakota side of the Red River must have a current ANS sticker displayed on the watercraft.

The ANS sticker can only be purchased by logging into the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website,

Paddlefish Snagging Season Opens May 1

North Dakota’s paddlefish season opens May 1, and is scheduled to continue through May 21. However, depending on the overall harvest, an early in-season closure may occur with a 24-hour notice issued by the state Game and Fish Department.

Paddlefish tags are available for purchase online at the Game and Fish website,, at license vendors, and during business hours at Game and Fish Department offices in Bismarck, Dickinson, Jamestown, Devils Lake, Lonetree (Harvey) and Williston. Snaggers buying tags online have the option to have the tag mailed or can stop at a district office and pick it up during business hours. Those purchasing a tag at a vendor or having it mailed should plan accordingly and allow for a few days for delivery.

All paddlefish snaggers must possess a paddlefish tag, in addition to a valid fishing license for anyone 16 and older. Cost of a paddlefish tag is $10 for residents and $25.50 for nonresidents. Lost or destroyed tags will not be replaced.

The Game and Fish Department will allow camping during the open paddlefish season at Lewis and Clark Wildlife Management Area Pumphouse and at Neu’s Point WMA. However, no roads or gates will be open at Neu’s Point, therefore camping is allowed in the small Neu’s Point parking lot, and the rest of the WMA for walk-in access. All other WMA regulations apply. Outdoor enthusiasts are urged to be aware of the current fire index.

For more information on the paddlefish snagging season, snaggers should refer to the Game and Fish website.

Tagging Studies Offer Insight into Fisheries

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will be conducting numerous tagging studies on walleye populations across the state over the next several years to gain a better understanding of how anglers are utilizing these fisheries.

This year, walleye tagging efforts will occur at Coal, Twin, Coe and West Napoleon lakes. These studies will provide information that will enable the Department fisheries managers to provide the best fisheries possible for the state’s anglers to enjoy.

Anglers will play a vital role in these studies and are encouraged to report any tagged fish they encounter by logging in to their Game and Fish account or using the “tagged fish reporting” feature on the Department’s website