Summer News from Prairie Smoke Ranch

Timely rains bust the drought

Early Summer Update & News from Prairie Smoke Ranch

Greetings and Happy 4th of July!  Summer is progressing nicely here in Central North Dakota’s Prairie Pothole Region. Following are the summer conditions we’ve found on the ranch and surrounding area. 

Water Conditions

Three inches of rain in the past four days spells: “drought buster”.   As reported earlier we have received some sort of precip every three to four days for the last six weeks – it might be 15/100ths, a half inch or 1 ¾” such as we received a couple days ago. See last week’s drought map here:

I fully expect the drought line will be pushed further to the northwest when the new map comes out.

Frequent rain makes great crops, hay and food plots (not to mention happy ducks). Not so helpful when trying to “put up” hay – consequently our 300+ acres are still standing as this is written. Fair skies for the next few days means this might be our window to get it cut and baled.

Early rain and hot weather (in the 90's) in May pushed area alfalfa to early maturity, allowing many local ranchers to put it up earlier than in previous years. This means a couple things: they may get two cuttings, which is rare here in the high plains, and alfalfa fields this fall may be quite thick due to regrowth – and consequently may hold some upland birds. I don’t expect we’ll be lacking for cover this fall – the landscape here is green, lush and growing. Similarly, pasture areas this fall should provide more cover than in previous years. 

What about the sloughs and wetlands? Our sloughs, many of which were dry last fall, are moist and thick with vegetation. We are gaining water on some of them but unless we get torrential rains throughout the remainder of the summer I expect they will hold these levels – this assuming the current rain pattern continues. Our big water continues to look good – wouldn’t mind if their levels dropped a bit.

Waterfowl Production

The Missus and I have been traveling to nearby locations in each compass direction lately in search of walleyes and trout (great year so far). What we have found is promising – most slough perimeters are well-vegetated, providing good brood hiding and foraging habitat. Seen any broods? Yes! Every pothole we have passed recently has ducks, but probably 90% of them have broods as well. From here to Turtle Lake that might be 75 potholes. And since most broods are hidden during daylight hours, it bodes well for brood production. An official estimate will be coming from North Dakota Game and Fish later this summer.

(Canada) Geese have long since been off nests but frankly we have not seen as many gosling groups as in previous years. We have a pretty significant crop depredation issue with geese so this might be OK. Our early goose season from mid-August to mid-Sept addresses this issue.

Because of low water levels the last few years muskrats have vacated the area. This means less easy “happy meals” for mink, coon, hawks and weasels, which in turn may put more pressure on duck nest and brood predation. On the flip side the mice, voles and gophers seem to be doing fine. “Nest buster” skunks seem in short supply as well, so that can only help brood production.  Porky sightings are thankfully rare as well – we have not seen any on the ranch yet, but that may change when the hay comes down. Coyote populations seem steady to increasing.

Upland Production

Our Game and Fish folks say the pheasant count in down significantly statewide (see: We have not found that to be the case in our area – based on the numbers of roosters we’ve seen on and off the property it appears the birds are holding their own – similar to 2017 numbers. This spring may have been a bit too wet for upland broods however, so remains to be seen how the brood count will turn out.

Have not noticed much in the way of sharpie or hun production, but typically we don’t start seeing these birds until some of the crop comes down, later this summer.


Our North Dakota Legislature DOES NOT meet this year, thus reducing the chances of some oddball nonresident hunting scheme to be foisted upon hardworking family hunters from out of state. In truth, the Legislature has been so busy with oil and law enforcement and education issues that outdoor recreation issues have taken a back seat in recent years. I have not heard of anything in the works which might impact your hunting this fall – license fees and season frameworks should be the same as last year. Licenses will be available on-line again -- no draw, no quotas. We remain in the most exclusive waterfowl zone: Zone 2.

We also remain perplexed as to why Game and Fish has not loosened up on deer tags here, as the herd has clearly recovered from getting smacked by several rough winters in a row. Traveling at night has become hazardous again due to all the deer on the roads – yet the state still only issued 58K licenses to over 110K applicants.

The feds have proposed a “liberal” waterfowl framework again this year. This should mean a six bird limit with various species limits contained within. See details here:

The state could take a more conservative stance regarding limits, but that is not likely. I expect other federal regulations and season dates will be similar to 2017.

Booked your 2018 Waterfowl Hunt yet?

We still have room for our free September Youth Waterfowl Hunt. We also have a couple of great slots open in October and a couple in early November.  For details see:

Questions? Give Dan a call at 701-626-7637 or shoot me an email --

Work those dogs!

Dan & Jeanie
Prairie Smoke Ranch
Butte, North Dakota



2018 Food Plot Update
2018 Preseason Update

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