North Dakota pheasant counts up 30 percent from last year

North Dakota’s roadside pheasant survey counts are out today, and they indicate that the number of birds and broods are both up statewide, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the agency, said the survey shows total pheasants are up 30 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were up 37 percent, while the average brood size was down 4 percent.

A hunter in North Dakota prepares to slip a rooster pheasant into his game bag. (News Tribune file photo)

“Late-summer roadside counts indicate pheasant hunters are going to find more pheasants in most parts of the state, with more young roosters showing up in the fall population,” Kohn said.

Here’s a regional breakdown:

Southwestern North Dakota: Total pheasants were up 22 percent and broods observed up 23 percent from 2013. Observers counted 19 broods and 154 birds per 100 survey miles.

Southeastern North Dakota: Total pheasants were up 2 percent from last year, and the number of broods up 16 percent. Observers counted six broods and 50 birds per 100 miles.

Northwestern North Dakota: Pheasants are up 21 percent from last year, with broods up 26 percent. Observers recorded seven broods and 57 birds per 100 miles.

Northeastern North Dakota: The northeast district  showed two broods and 16 birds per 100 miles. Number of birds observed was up 126 percent, and the number of broods recorded was up 166 percent.

The 2014 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 11 and continues through Jan. 4.

Ruffed grouse broods down, turkeys up in Wisconsin


Ruffed grouse broods seen per observer-hour were down about 2 percent from last year across the Northern Region of Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Statewide, ruffed grouse broods were down 10 percent compared to 2013, and brood size rose from 3.8 to 4.0 young per brood.

“While some areas of the primary ruffed grouse range will be better than others, it appears that ruffed grouse numbers will be no better than last year and well below their cyclic high experienced a few years ago,” said Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist. “We anticipated a continued population decline as grouse progress through their nine- to 11-year population cycle, so these numbers are not unexpected. The grouse population should reach its cyclic low within the next couple of years before beginning its climb back to the top.”

Turkey broods were up 12 percent in the northern region, DNR officials said. The statewide turkey observation rate was 22 percent above the long-term average. The average brood-size documented in 2014 was 4.5 young per brood, up from 4.2 in 2013.






More than 6,000 raptors pass over Hawk Ridge on Monday

A bald eagle. (Sam Cook photo)

Monday was a banner day at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, where in 12 1/2 hours counters Karl Bardon and Steve Kolbe tallied 6,622 raptors. That’s the largest single-day migration at Hawk Ridge this fall, said Janelle Long, executive director of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

Mid-September always marks the peak of the broad-winged hawk migration, and on Monday more than 5,500 broadwings were observed, bringing the broadwing season total to 13,385. That’s nowhere near the single-day record for broadwings at Hawk Ridge. On Sept. 15, 2003, nearly 102,000 broadwings coursed over the ridge.

Also on Monday, the count included 876 sharp-shinned hawks, 57 bald eagles, 45 American kestrels and numerous other species.Through Monday, this fall’s total hawk count is at 19,331. Counting began in mid-August, and 18,771 hawks have been counted in September so far.

From 1991 to 2013, the total fall hawk migration over Hawk Ridge has averaged 76,000 raptors, according to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. The main overlook at Hawk Ridge, free and open to the public, is one mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway. For more information about Hawk Ridge, go to



Send us your best hunting-dog story

Do you have an amazing hunting-dog story to share? We want to hear it. Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer Sam Cook wants to share your story with our readers.

Cooper, a yellow Lab owned by Duluth’s Bruce Smith, retrieves a ruffed grouse in 2013. (News Tribune file photo)

Just email it to us (300 words or less) and tell us what happened. We’re looking for hunting-related stories — a remarkable retrieve, a surprising moment in the field, a humorous anecdote. If you have a photo of the dog, send it along, too. And please include a phone number where we can reach you during the day. Deadline for entries is Oct. 1. We’ll publish as many as we can. Send your stories to with the subject line “hunting story.”

Eastern Montana offers good sharptail hunting for Minnesota hunters

Mark Helmer of Duluth and Millie, his Lab, walk across a piece of short-grass prairie in eastern Montana during a sharptail hunting trip. (Sam Cook photo)

Four of us made our annual pilgrimage to eastern Montana to camp on the prairies and hunt sharp-tailed grouse for a few days. We found plenty of birds and covered a lot of ground. We pitch our tents in a tree-lined hay yard of farm friends we have come to know. They opened their farm to us for camping during the first conversation we had with them at a convenience store in town.

Sharp-tailed grouse, a relative of ruffed grouse, are birds of the short-grass prairie. They like to be in wide-open country where they can easily see predators approaching. Hunters can easily flush the birds without dogs, but it’s nice to have the dogs for retrieving. Plus, we just wouldn’t hunt without them.

Montana’s sharptail season opens Sept. 1 each year. Western North Dakota also has excellent sharptail hunting, and hunters have easier access to the land there than in Montana. We hunted Block Management Areas, private land opened to hunters by landowners.

We were greeted upon arriving at the farm by this sign, made by Bailey, the oldest of the two farm couple’s children.

We felt welcome from the moment we arrived. (Sam Cook photo)

Our farm friends had made a generous alcove among the hay bales for our little camp. From left are Steve Harrington of Duluth and Rick Francisco of Hermantown. (Sam Cook photo)

Steve Harrington spends some quality time with Willow, his German wire-haired pointer. (Sam Cook photo)

Mark Helmer takes a break on a piece of prairie with dogs Boof (left) and Lucy. (Sam Cook photo)

Helmer gets some midday reading in around the fire as Boof and Millie rest. (Sam Cook photo)

Eastern Montana is wheat country, and sharptails sometimes feed in cut wheat fields. This year’s harvest was running late, and much of the wheat was still standing. (Sam Cook photo)

Raptor migration happening daily over Hawk Ridge

Duluth News Tribune photographer Clint Austin captured this arresting photo of a sharp-shinned hawk at Hawk Ridge in 2008. It had been captured and banded at the Hawk Ridge banding station.

The annual raptor migration has begun, and counters at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth are documenting it daily. Chief counter Karl Bardon and his crew began counting in mid-August.

As always, sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks are among the most common early migrants. As of Monday, some 187 sharpshins and 165 broadwings had been counted so far this fall. In addition, 153 bald eagles have passed over Hawk Ridge, located one mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway.

Best days to observe the migration — meaning the chance of more birds in the air — are days with westerly winds. Those winds push the migrants toward Lake Superior, but hawks don’t like to fly over the lake. So, they follow the shoreline south and west, eventually passing over Duluth. The raptors ride thermals that form along the hillside before continuing their movement south.

Viewing at Hawk Ridge is free. Just bring a pair of binoculars and, if possible, a birding guide to help identify hawks. The broadwing migration peaks in mid-September. Larger hawks and bald eagles continue to migrate through October.

A bander at Hawk Ridge holds a female sharp-shinned hawk before banding it. (News Tribune file photo)

South Dakota pheasant index up 76 percent

A yellow Lab rests with the result of an afternoon hunt.

South Dakota’s pheasant-per-mile index is up 76 percent from last year, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. The survey is not a population estimate, but rather compares the number of pheasants observed on the routes and establishes trend information.

“With favorable weather conditions this past winter and spring, along with the availability of quality nesting habitat across the state, we are going to see an increase in this year’s pheasant population,” Jeff Vonk, GFP secretary, said in a statement. “Survey results show pheasant numbers rebounded the strongest in central South Dakota; especially in the Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Winner areas. Results also indicate that pheasant numbers are substantially higher than 2013 throughout much of eastern South Dakota.”

The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.

Dave Nomsen, who leads Pheasants Forever’s new regional headquarters in Brookings, S.D., says the positive brood report should excite pheasant hunters but needs to be taken in context with the substantial upland habitat losses of recent years.

“The ‘pheasant crisis’ South Dakota has experienced over the past few years has not been solved,” Nomsen said in a statement. “While tough winters and wet springs play a role in population changes, it’s the loss of habitat that’s responsible for the long-term decline of pheasants in the state. And we haven’t yet replaced the 1.8 million acres of grasslands and prairies lost since 2006.”

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Oct. 18 and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.



Small game and duck hunter numbers decline in Minnesota

A yellow Lab retrieves a rooster pheasant during a Minnesota pheasant hunt.

The number of pheasant hunters, ruffed grouse hunters and duck hunters all declined last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Pheasant hunter numbers dropped the most dramatically, down 19 percent from 2012. Pheasant hunters took an estimated 169,100 pheasants, down 36 percent from 264,000 in 2012 and the lowest harvest since 1986. Pheasant hunters took an average of 2.7 pheasants last fall.

An estimated 77,900 people hunted ducks, down 5 percent from 2012. Duck hunters took more than 782,000 ducks, an average of 10.2 ducks each in 2013.

The number of grouse hunters last fall was estimated at 81,100, down 11 percent from 2012. Grouse hunters harvested an average of 3.6 in 2013 compared to 3.7 in 2012. The overall grouse harvest was 288,410, the lowest since 2005-06. The ruffed grouse population fluctuates on about a 10-year cycle and is currently in the lower range of that cycle.

The hunter numbers and harvest figures are based on a survey of small-game hunters by the DNR.