2023 Partridge & Grouse Season Preview
By: Nick Simonson
Ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian partridge and sharptailed grouse opener in North Dakota agents of the state’s Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) report solid rebounds for both birds on their summer surveys, particularly in the west. According to Upland Game Management Supervisor Jesse Kolar, Hungarian partridge are doing very well and are seeing an unexpected boom, especially along the state’s western border.
“Their numbers surprised us again this year and were high from the South Dakota and Montana borders all the way to Saskatchewan. So, it’s back to almost the good ol’ day numbers for partridge, surprisingly. We don’t know how they made it through the long winter like they did, and don’t know how they are continuing to increase when we have drought years and tough conditions for other wildlife,” Kolar expresses.
A bird that does better in drier conditions, the partridge has seen a bit of a comeback of sorts since their numbers dipped in 2015 or so. Following droughts in 2017 and 2021, the birds continued their increase in summer roadside brood tallies conducted by the agency, but not every year was particularly dry on their upswing while showing up in those surveys. Kolar suggests that other factors may be at play in helping bring about the Huns’ recent resurgence.
“The drought years at first it made sense that they would show increases. They typically do better during the drought periods, but then the last two years we’ve had better moisture conditions and they’re continuing to rebound, so I don’t think the drought hypothesis is perfect,” Kolar suggests on increasing partridge numbers, adding, “insects are probably a bigger point to focus on and we have had really big grasshopper years. That everybody notices, but there’s also other small insects in the years we see a lot of grasshoppers, so I think the insect abundance probably helped them out in the last two
With plenty of moisture from the melting snows of winter and timely rains throughout the spring and summer, grass cover not only spurred those insect hatches to sustain upland chicks, but also helped carry out good nesting condition and hatches, especially for the state’s native sharptailed grouse populations. As a result, these popular prairie birds made a more regular showing in the summer roadside counts, and hunters should find more encounters with sharpies in their walks through North Dakota’s uplands this autumn.
“We were struggling for the last three or four years in the southwest. It just didn’t rebound quite like the northwest did. We had higher densities in the southwest than in eastern North Dakota, but eastern North Dakota relative to their normal abundance was looking really good the last few years and the southwest was just okay,” Kolar explains of recent sharptail population trends in the heart of their historic range, “this year is finally getting back to what people are used to. Maybe not 2007 or ’12 or ‘13, but we’re back to good brood sizes, and also quite a few broods per mile on our routes,” he concludes.
The Hungarian partridge and sharptailed grouse seasons in North Dakota open on Sat. Sept. 9 and run until Sun. Jan. 7, 2024. Hunting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset each day. The daily limit for each bird is three and the possession limit is 12. Hungarian partridge hunting is allowed statewide, while two small areas are excepted from sharptailed grouse hunting to protect the low numbers of similarly-profiled prairie chickens in the state that cohabit those spaces with grouse. Those areas are: 1) that portion in the southeastern corner of the state bordered on the west by ND Hwy 32, on the north by the Sheyenne River, on the south by ND Hwy 11 and on the east by the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers; and 2) an area in Grand Forks County bordered on the east by the Red River, the south by U.S. Highway 2, the west by ND Highway 18 and the north by the Walsh and Grand Forks county line.
For more information on partridge and grouse hunting visit: gf.nd.gov/hunting/upland.