Drier spring, great brood production
Summer 2019 News from Prairie Smoke Ranch (July 2019)
Greetings from the prairie. We had a very dry spring but some folks predicted the rain was coming and would arrive mid-June – they were right. It has been raining regularly since mid-June and we have picked up about 2 ½ inches. It was a little late for the food plots and hay but they have recovered nicely. So have the critters.
North Dakota Game and Fish announced recently that the number of duck breeding pairs was up. Appears those same pairs have been busy as reports from the field would indicate very good brood production – nearly all our area wetlands contain 1-4 broods each. Game and Fish will conduct actual brood counts and release the results in July so we will put some actual numbers to the production soon; but we are optimistic.
One pleasing local trend: we have never seen so many breeding pairs of canvasbacks in our area as this year. On any given day you can travel to nearby potholes and see the strikingly-colored drakes in small groups waiting out the hens on nests. Interestingly, they are nesting on small ponds ringed with cattails. This makes sense as they typically nest over water but Cans are usually associated with bigger water. Saw a brood of Scaup this morning too – 10 birds.
We have not seen much for Ruddys, which is odd as they usually arrive late but are plentiful in our area. Still have gadwalls on nests near the yard.
Rooster-rama! We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the number of upland birds locally – as reported earlier lots of pheasants, good numbers of sharptails but most surprising is the number of Hungarian Partridge sightings. The Huns are our prairie equivalent to quail, albeit quail on steroids, and usually don’t tolerate hard winters. But they are here in numbers, locally at least, and among our favorites to hunt as they hold tight, bust hard and don’t sail too far before going to ground again. Plus they are very tasty, occupying the middle ground between pheasant and sharpie as they arrive on your plate.
A Good Year for Deer/Moose
Mule deer continue to expand in our area, and the whitetails seem to have recovered from their recent tough winters. We have seen some nice mule deer just north of us and recently saw a moose over by the Pass area (about 4 miles west of us). We have a handful of game cams out again and have seen a few nicer bucks on camera but they are still in velvet so tough to say how big they will get. Looks like at least one shooter. They are in the old food plot every night as it is still full of corn from 2018, along with mallards, pintails, pheasants, sharpies, doves and every blackbird between here and Omaha.
Those familiar with the ranch will appreciate the following, the rest of you can scratch your heads and wonder what the heck we are talking about:
Bluebill is stable, was down to the Saddle yesterday and water is at same level as last fall. Looks good to go again for 2019.
Mallard Point appears up a bit – water is all the way up to where the cow decoys were standing.
Spoonie is holding more water than last fall.
Roadside is way down – may be nearly dry by this fall. Island and the Hook are down – probably not viable for 2019.
Camp and Nick 1 and Mailbox are holding their own as is Border way down to the south.
North End is up from last fall but not much there. Would not count on it for 2019.
The Pass seems about the same but haven’t been down to the point yet.
Other water off the ranch seems down in general, but everything more than two inches deep is holding birds right now.
One more trend we have noticed – in some years the sloughs hold water until later in the summer and then dry up, leaving a muddy hole. We are finding that the sloughs drying down now are filling in with grassy vegetation – guessing this is a result of the particular rain/heat cycles we are currently in. If nothing else this will probably help alleviate the “mud flat” effect that we had last fall, with many sloughs ringed by mudflats. Remains to be seen how much water we will lose in the coming months.
Based on available information we expect another liberal bag limit of 6 ducks this year, with some of the usual species restrictions. I have yet to see anything official. After much ado earlier this year, we DO NOT have any new trespass laws. More restrictive laws were narrowly defeated in the ND Legislature this year. As such, the issue will not be revisited again as our Legislature only meets every other year. Given this, if land is not posted it is considered open for hunting.
To my knowledge we do not have any new or expired PLOTS tracts around us but there are sure to be some statewide; updated maps are available at: https://gf.nd.gov/plots/guide/maps
We have the usual mix of crops around us – given the tariffs on soybeans there will be fewer beans but the usual wheat, canola, flax, corn and a few fields of sunflowers. With the early and dry spring farmers had no problem getting the crops planted here in central North Dakota. And the recent rain has helped to get them off to a good start. It should be a good crop year. The canola blooms are colored (bright yellow) and the blue flax blooms have just begun. We understand it is much drier in northern North Dakota. Haying has begun around us and our alfalfa mix hay is blossomed out and ready to go.
We have 500 acres of native prairie on the ranch and so host a large variety of native plants – pasque flowers earlier, prairie smoke and ground plums now, prairie clover and blanket flower and cone flower later this month, along with blazing star. Looks like another good crop of chokecherries and hawthorns coming along, which the sharpies love. Buffaloberry looks good. Prairie roses are just starting now as well. Should be another good year for juneberries and raspberries based on our plantings in the yard.
Our sloughs continue to be loaded with freshwater shrimp; we had a good hatch this spring so this will be a good food source for ducks until freeze-up.
Our food plots look pretty good; the larger plot is in strips again with soybeans planted between the old corn and fallow. It will be a good crop. Corn in the other plot is spotty but will hold critters. Every manner of critter continues to feed in the large food plot, lots of mallards, deer, sharpies etc.
2019 will go down as one of the worst for gophers in recent memory – our neighbor traveled to another ranch recently and shot over 300 in one afternoon. We’ve expended a considerable amount of lead ourselves keeping the little buggers in check. (In gopher nightmares they see Jeanie and her .17 caliber long-gun.) I expect the coyotes are eating well and as usual we have several resident packs around us. Haven’t seen much for skunks or porkies or badgers. More raccoons around than we need; with fur prices in the crapper not much demand for pelts.
Fishing has been crazy good, with limits of walleyes not unexpected each time out on our local lakes. This lasts only as long as the cool weather, and so in the last week, with the weather hitting mid 80s it has slacked off considerably. June is always our best month. We did manage one nice monster rainbow trout this morning on a nearby trout lake. It is time now to switch to the larger lakes and the MO River.
As a reminder to our hunters and potential hunters we have transitioned to self-guided hunts here at Prairie Smoke Ranch. Our hunters will have exclusive access to our acreage and wetlands but must provide their own decoys, blinds, dogs and other gear. As usual we will provide on-site lodging in our bunkhouses, the cleaning shed, kennels and freezers for your game. I expect we will have one or two openings this fall for a new group.
2018 was our best Tundra Swan year ever, with all our hunters pulling tags filling them. And we had the capacity to harvest many more. If you are interested in harvesting a swan you will need to put in for a tag this summer. If you apply you will almost certainly pull a tag. Limit is one bird per season.
2018 was also one of our best waterfowl seasons in recent memory. Low water conditions played a part, along with a strong hatch and early season snow. Remains to be seen what 2019 will hold but we are optimistic. As usual, weather often dictates when birds move through during the season.
That's it for now. Work those dogs. E-mail with questions or booking requests – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan & Jeanie
Prairie Smoke Ranch