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Strongest pheasant count in years should boost number of hunters in North Dakota

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — Healthy pheasant numbers mean hunters should bag more birds when they take to the field this fall, a state wildlife official said.

The state's pheasant season opens Saturday and continues through Jan. 4.

A recent survey indicates the number of pheasants in North Dakota has risen 30 percent from last year, due to good spring weather, said Stan Kohn, an upland game management supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department.

"The total number of birds out there is better than what we've seen in the past few years," Kohn said. "Sportsmen should see more birds."

A roadside survey conducted in late July and August included 253 runs along 106 brood routes across North Dakota. Pheasant brood observations were up 37 percent, while the average brood size was down only 4 percent.

The survey is done with bird counters who slowly drive selected routes across the state watching for adult pheasants and their young drawn to roads to eat grit that helps the birds' digestion.

Last year 76,500 hunters killed 450,000 roosters in North Dakota. Kohn said this year's season should be similar to 2010 when 92,000 hunters bagged 550,000.

The number of hunters is directly related to the number of birds, and the number of birds is tied to habitat, Kohn said.

The spring nesting period was mostly warm and dry this year resulting in "nice vegetative cover for nesting and brooding," he said.

The opening of pheasant season likely brings in more visitors to the state than any other event during a one-or two-week period, state tourism officials say.

Mott, a town of 800 in southwest North Dakota, typically swells by hundreds the opening week of pheasant season. The town has billed itself as one of the premier pheasant-hunting destinations in the country, and Mott's motels, bars and restaurants will be full of blaze orange-clad hunters, said Mark Weigand, who owns the Tailfeather Inn, a hunting lodge.

Weigand said his lodge can handle up to 60 hunters and is mostly booked through the season.

"I don't know if Mott would exist without pheasant hunting," he said.

The area each year draws celebrities looking to bag some birds.

"The actor Jack Nicholson has been here and the golfer Jack Nicklaus has been here," Wiegand said. Retired race car driver "Richard Petty comes here every year."

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