A North Dakota outdoors expert says pheasant hunters are going to have to work harder than usual to find birds this year.
Hunters who venture out for Saturday's opener and beyond will find that numbers are down across the board, Pheasants Forever regional representative Matt Olson said.
The nonprofit conservation group has 27 chapters and more than 4,000 members in North Dakota.
"It's going to be a bit tougher out there," Olson told the Grand Forks Herald.
A late and wet spring hampered bird reproduction, Olson said, although the cover is good so there will be opportunities to find adult pheasants. However, it will take some trekking through deep sloughs.
"The days of taking a nice, easy walk and getting your roosters are probably over," Olson said.
Olson said two large rain events in southeastern North Dakota put a damper on nesting. Some hens re-nested, which means hunters could encounter some immature roosters with very little color to make it easy to discern them from hens, which can't be hunted.
"Some birds now are just starting to get into color," Olson said. "I don't know how ready they'll be come opener, but later, they'll be colored up fully."
Olson said habitat continues to erode as acreage enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program expires and more grasslands are broken up for farming. CRP acreage in North Dakota, which peaked at about 3.4 million acres in 2007, is down to about 1.7 million acres.
"It's definitely in decline and on top of that, we're really starting to see a lot of pastures, some of those not being fully utilized, they're going to crop production, as well," Olson said. "We're losing permanent cover at a pretty bad rate right now."