While the deadline for removing permanent fish houses from North Dakota lakes is March 15, the state Game and Fish Department is urging anglers to consider removing their houses early in areas of the state where ice conditions are deteriorating.
Given the current long-range weather forecast predicting temperatures well above normal, coupled with a marginal icepack in areas of the state, removing a fish house can be difficult or dangerous.
It’s important to check ice thickness, especially this time of year. Ice conditions can vary from region to region, between lakes in the same region, and even on the same lake.
Even on lakes where ice remains solid away from shore, anglers should watch the weather and adjust activities accordingly.
Spring Turkey Drawing Held, Licenses Remain
The 2024 spring wild turkey lottery has been held and more than 1,000 licenses remain in 11 units. Remaining licenses are issued on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 8 a.m. Central time on Feb. 21.
Hunters are allowed two licenses for the spring season.
Licenses remain in unit 03, Benson and Ramsey counties and portions of Pierce County; unit 06, Bowman County; unit 13, Dunn County; unit 19, Grant and Sioux counties and portions of Morton County; unit 25, McHenry County and portions of Pierce and Ward counties; unit 30, portions of Morton County; unit 31, Mountrail County; unit 44, Slope County; unit 45, Stark County; unit 51, Burke County and portions of Renville, Bottineau and Ward counties; and unit 53, Williams and Divide counties.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials are looking for information in connection to a deer poaching case on Oahe Wildlife Management area south of Bismarck near the Emmons-Burleigh county line.
An antlerless white-tailed deer was shot and left intact in a field sometime around Feb. 3-5.
If anyone has information about the illegal taking of this deer, contact Report All Poachers at 701-328-9921. Individuals may remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward if a conviction is made based on the information provided.
Electronic Posting System for Private Land Available
The deadline for landowners to digitally post land is July 1, which enables Game and Fish to produce print material and digital content prior to hunting seasons that begin in August.
Landowners who enrolled land electronically last year can renew, add or modify posting designations during the enrollment period. Others posting for the first time might need to create a profile. To post land, proceed to the “Land Parcels/Electronic Posting” section at the bottom of the page and click “Search/Renew Land parcels.” The electronic posting system is linked to land descriptions based on county tax parcel information.
Residents must have a 2023-24 (valid through March 31) or 2024-25 (required April 1) combination license; or a small game, and general game and habitat license. Resident youth under age 16 only need the general game and habitat license. The 2024-25 license is available for purchase beginning March 15.
Nonresidents need a 2024 spring light goose conservation order license. The cost is $50 and valid statewide. Nonresidents who hunt in spring remain eligible to buy a fall season license. The spring license does not count against the 14-day fall waterfowl hunting season regulation.
In addition, nonresident youth under 16 can purchase a license at the resident fee.
A federal duck stamp is not required for either residents or nonresidents.
Hunters must register annually with the Harvest Information Program prior to hunting in each state. The HIP number obtained for North Dakota’s spring conservation order is also valid for North Dakota’s fall hunting season. The number can be obtained online on the Game and Fish website.
The spring conservation order is only open to light geese – snows, blues and Ross’s. Species identification is important because white-fronted and Canada geese travel with light geese. The conservation order is closed to whitefronts, Canada geese, swans and all other migratory birds.
The North Dakota National Archery in the Schools Program state tournament is scheduled for March 15-16 at the State Fair Center in Minot. The tournament will feature competition in bullseye, 3-D and varsity.
The tournament consists of team and individual competition in elementary, middle and high school divisions, with $40,000 in prizes awarded including more than $30,000 in higher education scholarships.
The state tournament and all other local and regional NASP tournaments are open to any student in grades 4-12 who attends a school that offers NASP lessons during the school day.
A complete listing of tournaments in North Dakota is available on the official NASP tournament website at http://www.nasptournaments.org/. A certified NASP archery instructor must preregister participants for all NASP tournaments.
For more information, or to find out if your child’s school participates in NASP, contact Jeff Long, North Dakota state coordinator, at email@example.com, or call 701-328-6322.
Guide and Outfitter Exam Scheduled
The next guide and outfitter written examination is March 30 at 1 p.m. at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department office in Bismarck. Preregistration is required no later than March 22 by calling the Department’s enforcement office at 701-328-6604.
In addition to passing a written exam, qualifications for becoming a guide include a background check for criminal and game and fish violations, certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and standard first aid, and employment by or contract with a licensed hunting outfitter.
Hunting outfitter eligibility requirements include the guide qualifications, as well as an individual must have held a hunting guide license for two years and must have proof of liability insurance.
The test is given periodically to anyone interested in becoming a guide or outfitter in the state.
Youth Conservation and Leadership Summer Camp Opportunity
The North Dakota Waterfowl Brigade summer camp is June 3-7 at the 4-H Center in Washburn.
The five-day camp is a hands-on immersive learning experience for youth ages 13-17 designed to educate participants about the importance of wetland ecosystems, waterfowl biology, flock dynamics, shooting skills and safety, stewardship, public speaking, leadership development and more.
The deadline to apply is March 15.
NDWTFL is a program of Texas Brigades, a Texas-based 501(c)(3) focused on educating and empowering adolescents to become conservation ambassadors.
North Dakotans interested in supporting wildlife conservation programs should 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.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is offering 8,137 wild turkey licenses for the 2024 spring hunting season, 725 more than last year.
Thirteen of the 22 hunting units have more spring licenses than last year and eight remain the same. Unit 21 (Hettinger and Adams counties) is again closed due to the lack of turkeys.
Spring turkey applicants can apply online at the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov.
The deadline for applying is Feb. 14.
A general game and habitat license is required when applying. Applicants have the option of having the general game and habitat license refunded if their turkey license is not drawn in the lottery.
In addition, hunters 16 and older must possess a small game license, or combination license.
First-time spring turkey hunters 15 or younger are eligible to receive one spring license valid for any open unit. To be eligible, the youth hunter must be 15 or younger on opening day of spring turkey season and has never received a spring turkey license in North Dakota.
The spring turkey season opens April 13 and continues through May 19.
Record Number of Geese Tallied in Survey
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual midwinter waterfowl survey in early January was a record breaker.
During the aerial midwinter survey, one of the longest running coordinated migratory bird surveys in North America, biologists counted more than 300,000 Canada geese.
“Our old record was about 222,000 Canada geese, so we blew that out of the water,” said Mike Szymanski, Department migratory game bird management supervisor.
Compared to last year when winter came early and stayed late, there was a lot more open water along the Missouri River System to hold birds. Last winter, for example, Lake Sakakawea iced over on Dec. 18, making it one of the earliest dates for freeze up in recent years.
“We had a really nice December … a lot of areas were almost 10 degrees above average for the entire month of December,” Szymanski said. “There was a lot of open water under nice conditions, with no feeding limitations on the birds. That translated into our wintering waterfowl estimates. Last year, we really didn't need to survey any of Lake Sakakawea because of early freeze up. But this year the lake was open from about the Van Hook Arm down to the dam and the U.S. Highway 83 causeway.”
Interestingly, biologists counted more than 9,000 snow geese during the survey.
“That was kind of surprising. We've always had some snow geese here and there, but most years we have zero,” Szymanski said. “To have sizable numbers like that is pretty interesting.”
Also, biologists typically see around 5,000 to 10,000 mallards during the survey. During this year’s midwinter count, the tally jumped to 43,000 birds.
While that sounds like a sizeable increase, Szymanski said the number of mallards tallied, in the grand scheme of things, was simply a drop in the bucket when it comes to continental populations.
“We really don’t have that many mallards in North Dakota during the midwinter survey,” he said.
All states in the Central Flyway participate in the midwinter survey during the same time frame to reduce the possibility of counting birds more than once.
“What we learn in the surveys is used primarily to estimate some of the species that we don't have very good breeding count estimates for, especially arctic nesting birds,” Szymanski said. “It also helps paint a picture of waterfowl distributions, kind of in the middle of hunting season for some of the wintering states. And also changes in wintering distributions over time.”