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News Releases

North Dakota Game and Fish Department

North Dakota Game and Fish Department

News Releases

Remove Gear from WMAs

Tree stands, blinds, steps, and other personal items such as cameras, must be removed from all wildlife management areas by Jan. 31.

Items not removed by then are considered abandoned property and are subject to removal and confiscation by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Hunters Urged to Participate

North Dakota hunters receiving a survey this winter are encouraged to help with wildlife management by completing the survey online or returning it to the state Game and Fish Department.

Big game, small game, waterfowl, swan, turkey and furbearer questionnaires are being sent to randomly selected hunters.

It is important hunters complete and return the survey, even if they did not hunt. The harvest survey allows Game and Fish to evaluate the hunting season, to determine the number of hunters, amount of hunting activity and size of the harvest.

A follow-up survey will be mailed to those not responding to the first survey.

Earth Day Patch Contest

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual Earth Day Patch Contest is, in part, an effort to heighten the awareness about the environment in North Dakota and beyond.

Students who participate will develop a patch design using five colors incorporating an aspect of Earth Day such as environmental awareness, respect Earth, water quality, wildlife, or habitat conservation in North Dakota.

The contest is open to students in grades K-12. Winners are chosen from three grade categories (K-4, 5-8 and 9-12). Each winner will receive an outdoor kit, which includes a pair of binoculars and field guides. The grand prize patch design winner is chosen from one of the three winning age categories.

In addition, the grand prize winner will have their design displayed on the recognition patch, be featured in North Dakota OUTDOORS and on the Game and Fish website. Contest entry deadline is March 1.

Details about the contest can be found on the department’s website at For additional information, contact Sherry Niesar, Earth Day Patch Contest coordinator, at 701-527-3714 or email

Hunter Education Classes

If you were born after 1961, are 12 years or older, you must take an in-person or home study certified hunter education course before you can get a firearm or bowhunting license in North Dakota.

Understanding this, especially if you have your sights set on hunting this fall, now is not the time to drag your feet. Most in-person courses are from January through May.

Individuals interested in taking a hunter education class in 2024 must click on the education link at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, To register for a class, click on “enroll” next to the specific class, and follow the simple instructions. Personal information is required. Classes are listed by city and can also be sorted by start date. Classes will be added throughout the year as they become finalized.

Individuals interested in receiving a notice by email or SMS text message when each hunter education class is added, can click on the “subscribe to news and alerts” link below the news section on the Game and Fish home page. Check the box labeled “hunter education” under the education program updates.

Children must turn 12 during the calendar year to take the home study course, and age 11 during the calendar year to take the traditional in-person class.

Bobcat Zone 2 Closed

Bobcat hunting and trapping in Zone 2 is closed after the zone’s predetermined harvest limit of eight has been reached. Zone 2 is land east of U.S Highway 83.

The bobcat season in Zone 1 has no harvest limit and is open through March 15.

Fish House Regulations

Any fish house left unoccupied on North Dakota waters must be made of materials that allow it to float. In addition, fish houses do not require a license.

Other fish house regulations include:

  • 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 an address or telephone number, displayed on its outside in readily distinguishable characters at least 3 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 North Dakota 2022-24 Fishing Guide for other winter fishing regulations.

Darkhouse Spearfishing Registration

Individuals required to possess a valid fishing license (age 16 and older) to darkhouse spearfish must first register online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website,

Darkhouse spearing is allowed for all anglers with a valid fishing license and for youth under age 16.

Northern pike and nongame fish are the only legal species statewide, while walleye can be speared at Stump Lake and the Devils Lake complex south of U.S. Highway 2 and the Missouri River System (including lakes Oahe and Sakakawea and the Missouri River) up to the first tributary bridge.

Spearers and anglers are reminded that materials used to mark holes must be in possession as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made in the ice.

All waters open to hook and line fishing are open to darkhouse spearing except:

  • East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon – McLean County
  • Heckers Lake – Sheridan County
  • Lake Ashtabula – Barnes and Griggs counties
  • Larimore Dam – Grand Forks County
  • McClusky Canal
  • New Johns Lake – Burleigh County
  • Red Willow Lake – Griggs County
  • Whitman Dam – Nelson County
  • Wood Lake – Benson County

Anglers and spearers should refer to the 2022-24 North Dakota Fishing Guide for more information.

Free Ice Fishing Weekend

North Dakota’s free ice fishing weekend is Dec. 30 and 31. Resident anglers may fish those two days without a license. All other winter fishing regulations apply.

The weekend provides a great opportunity to try ice fishing for the first time or take someone new. Share your story for a chance to win a fish house.

Information on regulations, where to fish and what equipment is needed to ice fish is available on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s website at

Game and Fish Recognizes Employee Efforts

North Dakota Game and Fish Department director Jeb Williams recently honored employees with performance-based awards. The following special recognition awards were presented during the department’s staff meeting in December. 

Lisa Tofte, administrative assistant, Devils Lake, was recognized for her positive attitude, professionalism, knowledge and service to the public.

Alegra Powers, wildlife division administrative assistant, Bismarck, was recognized for her willingness to help, knowledge within the department, and her customer service with landowners and hunters.

Jim Houston, wildlife biological technician, Bismarck, was recognized for his efforts in spearheading the department’s turkey trapping operation.

Melissa Long, administrative officer, Bismarck, was recognized for her knowledge of state government, accounting, human resources and legislation.

Alan Reile, technical operations lead, Bismarck, was recognized for his knowledge, attitude, commitment and dedication to his job and colleagues. 

Justen Barstad, fisheries biological technician, Bismarck, was recognized for his work ethic, positive attitude, mechanical skills and field expertise.

Cayla Bendel, R3 coordinator, Bismarck, was recognized for her outreach efforts with NDO podcast, The Drift blog, social media and marketing.

District game wardens Mike Sedlacek, Fargo; Erik Schmidt, Linton; James Myhre, New Rockford; Shawn Sperling, Minot; Ken Skuza, Riverdale; Keenan Snyder, Williston; Courtney Springer, Elgin; Zane Manhart, Golva; and investigator Blake Riewer, Grand Forks, were recognized for their efforts as field training officers for committing countless hours to training new wardens.

In addition, warden Sedlacek was named North Dakota’s Boating Officer of the Year. His district includes rivers, lakes and reservoirs in eastern North Dakota. Chief game warden Scott Winkelman said warden Sedlacek is experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated, makes good decisions and serves the citizens in an outstanding manner.

Tofteland Named Wildlife Officer of the Year

Jonathan Tofteland, North Dakota Game and Fish Department district game warden in Bottineau, is the state’s 2023 Wildlife Officer of the Year. Tofteland was honored recently by Shikar-Safari Club International, a private conservation organization that annually recognizes outstanding wildlife officers in each state.

In a nomination letter sent to Shikar-Safari, chief warden Scott Winkelman said Tofteland’s district includes the Lake Metigoshe area along with the rest of Bottineau County and the Turtle Mountains.

“Warden Tofteland patrols by vehicle, boat, ATV and snowmobile to accomplish his enforcement goals in all four seasons. He has assumed extra duties, such as taser instructor, and has proven his dedication to his chosen profession by serving as treasurer on the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association Museum board,” Winkelman said. “He has a tremendous grasp of the area within his district, the landowners therein and the natural resources that he is sworn to protect. Warden Tofteland is always willing to assist neighboring wardens with any investigations.”

Bahnson Named Game and Fish Employee of the Year

Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian 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.

Jeb Williams, Game and Fish director, said Dr. Bahnson is an incredible asset to our state who is not only recognized by his local peers, but nationwide as well.

“His expertise and knowledge of the issues are continuously expanding. He is an instrumental participant in many state and nationwide working groups pertaining to wildlife health and disease,” Williams said. “Charlie spends countless hours collaborating with other agencies, such as the Board of Animal Health, and educating staff, the public and legislators on wildlife issues, including chronic wasting disease, epizootic hemorrhagic disease and avian influenza. He spearheaded a task force to revise our CWD management plan which will guide big game management into the future. In addition, he is one of the few wildlife veterinarians in the nation who is certified to surgically implant cellular GPS transmitters in birds to learn more about their natural movements. He successfully implemented these implants in mallards and in 2023, pintails.”

Zebra Mussels Discovered in Lake Oahe South Dakota

Zebra mussels have been confirmed in the lower end of Lake Oahe in South Dakota, after the species was detected at both the East Shore and Cow Creek boat ramps during inspection done by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks staff.

Ben Holen, North Dakota Game and Fish Department aquatic nuisance species coordinator, said Cow Creek is over 100 lake miles south of the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

“It will likely take a little time before we see zebra mussels in the upper end of the reservoir, unless they are moved by another vector,” Holen said.

ANS education, prevention and monitoring activities on Lake Oahe will increase, Holen said.

“In addition, we plan to work with our constituents over the next few months to discuss bait water regulations, while the upper end of the lake is uncolonized and cold water inhibits zebra mussel veliger production,” he added.

Oahe recreationists should remember to follow North Dakota ANS regulations.