All About Hunting In North Dakota

North Dakota is a scenic and underpopulated state surrounded by Canada and is located in the Upper Midwest region of the United States.

There is no strong evidence of when civilization started on the lands of North Dakota, but, according to archeologists, numerous artifacts have been found which suggest that hunting in this region dates back to 10,000 years ago.

The forest cover in North Dakota is estimated to be 724,000 acres. The area of forest land is small compared to the entire land area of the State (about 2.6 percent). In North Dakota, hunting rules are lenient on both private and private lands.

 There are over 8,000 new acres of land in the Walk-In Area hunting access program and over 1 million acres of existing publicly owned and privately leased land open for public hunting.

There are also approximately 730 Game Production Areas extending up to 281,000 acres of land. They are an important resource for a variety of wildlife species. 

Due to its long hunting seasons and variety of wildlife species every year, it attracts a large number of hunters.

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1. What Species To Hunt In North Dakota

While exploring the region, you will come across various wildlife species of both wildlife animals and migratory birds.

The most popularly hunted big game hunting animals are Bighorn sheep, Elk, Moose, Pronghorn, White-tailed deer, and Mule deer.

There is also a large range of migratory and waterfowl birds such as Canada Geese, Mergansers, white-fronted geese, Sandhill crane, Snipe, Woodcock, Coots, Light Geese, Dove, Turkey, Swans, and crows.

You will also come across various upland species like Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, Greater Prairie chicken, and Ruffed Grouse, to name a few.

There are various Furbearer and small hunting species like Beaver, Bobcat, Coyote, Mink, Mountain Lion, Raccoon, sage grouse, Tree squirrel. 

2. Seasons

Hunting seasons determine when it is the right time to hunt a specific animal species. It is decided or determined depending upon various factors like breeding times, conservation efforts, and population of the species. 

2.1 Big Game

This category includes species like Bighorn sheep, Elk, Moose, Pronghorn, White-tailed deer, and Mule deer. Their hunting season usually starts around the second week of September and goes on up till mid-October.

There might be minor variations in the season dates depending upon the species and weapons used while hunting.

2.2 Small Game & Furbearers

Includes a variety of species like Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, Greater Prairie chicken and Ruffed Grouse, Beaver, Bobcat, Coyote, Mink, Mountain Lion, Raccoon, sage grouse, Tree squirrel.

Hunting season begins around early September and lasts until the month of may of next year.

 2.3 Waterfowl And Migratory Birds

 Migratory birds and waterfowl species have a special time period to visit North Dakota.

There is an abundance of Canada Geese, Mergansers, white-fronted geese, Sandhill crane, Snipe, Woodcock, Coots, Light Geese, Dove, Turkey, Swans, and crows.

Hunting season usually starts around early September and lasts up till the second week of November.

How to Plan DIY Waterfowl Hunt In North Dakota Part 1

3. Where To Hunt

3.1 State Wildlife Management Areas

State wildlife management areas are located throughout the state. WMAs are open to hunting, fishing, and trapping. Usually, most of them are ideal for nature study, hiking, and primitive camping.

3.1.1 Waterfowl Production Areas

It is basically managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The area spreads up to 263,000 acres of land in North Dakota. Almost all of them are found north and east of the Missouri River.

They are generally less than 640 acres of land, but some are even larger.

3.1.2 National Wildlife Refuges

It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and consists of more than 200,000 acres. Many refugees even allow deer and upland game hunting.

Hunting opportunities vary for certain situations, so it is better to contact individual refuges for details. They are also excellent sites for wildlife viewing.

Many offer auto tours and interpretive sites. Information on specific refuges is available at each refuge headquarters.

3.1.3 State Trust Lands

It is managed by the State Department of Trust Lands. In North Dakota, there are more than 700,000 acres of state school trust land, known as state school land.

Much of this land is leased for agricultural activities and cattle grazing primarily. It is also opened to hunting too. Although the operators leasing the land may close the access if livestock is present.

3.1.4 U.S. Forest Service

It is the most important Missouri National Grasslands and is about 1 million acres and contains most of western North Dakota’s badlands. A large portion of this land is leased for agricultural use but is also open to public access.

3.1.5 Bureau of Land Management

It almost covers nearly 70,000 acres of area in North Dakota. Most of its land is leased for agricultural purposes but is also open to public use.

3.1.6 U.S. The Army Corps of Engineers Land 

It covers an area of more than 500,000 acres, most of which is under the water of the state’s major reservoirs like Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe, and several smaller lakes.

 The Corps manages some of the land surrounding these reservoirs, with public access usually available. It also gives thousands of acres of land to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to be used as wildlife management areas. 

The Corps also leases many thousands of acres to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department for use as wildlife management areas.

3.1.7 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

It covers an area up to 100,000 acres, out of which lies along with the Garrison Diversion Canal project.

A good share of this land is open to public access, while vehicle use on some roads is restricted.

3.1.8 North Dakota Forest Service

The state forest service owns the land. It is primarily used for small parcels in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills. These areas are open to public access.

3.2 Private Lands

No hunting is allowed, without permission from the landowner or lessee, on private lands in North Dakota that have been posted. 

Other regulations governing hunting and fishing on private land in the state are available on the official website of North Dakota for wishing and hunting.

The coming together of both private landowners and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department resulted in providing hunting access to many private lands via Private Land Open to Sportsmen agreements. 

4. License Requirements

A person who has actually lived or has maintained his or her domicile in North Dakota for the past six months are eligible for resident licenses.

A nonresident under the age group of 16 only needs to purchase a North Dakota resident fishing, hunting, and furbearer certificate and a North Dakota resident general game and habitat license to hunt small game and waterfowl.

To be eligible, a nonresident youth does not need to turn sixteen before the hunting season starts but must possess a certificate of completion for a certified hunter education course. 

The nonresident youth can only hunt under the supervision of an adult legal guardian who is licensed to hunt small game or waterfowl in this state.

Nonresident full-time state or tribal college students living in North Dakota and attending a North Dakota institution of higher learning under the jurisdiction of the Board of Higher Education, a private institution, or a tribal college are qualified to purchase non-lottery resident licenses. 

Waiver of Residency allows a person with a bona fide intention of becoming a resident, even though they have not resided in North Dakota for the required 6 months, to purchase non-lottery licenses such as fishing, small game, and furbearer at resident prices.

Military License: A North Dakota resident who is serving in the armed forces and is stationed outside the state can acquire a hunting license upon showing proof of residency, may receive a deer gun license without being subjected to the license lottery. Military personnel in the state on duty or leave are eligible to have hunting licenses on the mentioned above criteria.

 For a special hunting permit, a person should have a licensed physician, certified physician assistant, advanced practice registered nurse, or licensed chiropractor certify that you are unable to walk for hunting or taking wildlife or have lost the use of an arm at or below the elbow.

Nonresidents are restricted to hunt only on lands owned or leased by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, including all state wildlife management areas and private lands open to Sportsmen for the first week.

This applies to all kinds of hunting and is not applied to lands owned or managed by other state agencies such as state school lands and federal lands can be open to hunting.

4.1 How to Get a State Hunting License?

  • Complete the North Dakota hunter education certification requirements.
  • Choose the correct license type.
  • Buy the license through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website or a North Dakota or from an approved retailer near your area.

5. Hunters Education

Persons born after 1961 must complete a certified state or provincial hunter education course and present the certification card earned to the license vendor to purchase a North Dakota hunting license.

Exemptions: Persons who hunt only on land they own or operate; persons under the age group of 12 (those under the age group 12 can hunt if they have an appropriate license and are accompanied by a guardian).

Other information: Enrollee must be in the age group of 12 within the calendar year. Attendance is mandatory. If you do not attend, you will lose the opportunity to take a class this year. You may not enroll in more than one course at a time.

Persons requiring special accommodations (i.e., physical accessibility to the building, captioned movies, signing, material reading, Limited English Proficiency (LEP Services), should contact the Game and Fish Department at 701-328-6300 two weeks before the start of the class to make arrangements for special accommodations.

5.1 Why Is It Important?

Hunter education is important as it helps to prevent accidents that can happen during hunting and shooting. It improves hunter behavior and compliance with hunting laws.

Also, it helps in preventing hunting-related shooting accidents as it is the first attitude while hunting and also helps in participating in hunting activities and conservation organizations.

Hunter Education Classes – NDGNF

6. General Rules And Regulations

6.1 Can You Hunt At Night

Night hunting in North Dakota opens after deer gun season closes and goes up till March. It is prohibited to use artificial light even if it is visible by the naked eye.

6.2 Cable Device Restrictions

Cable devices are allowed on state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas after the small game hunting seasons.

6.3 Bag Limit

Bag Limit is defined as the number of a particular species that an individual angler can harvest and possess in a given day. Bag limit and limits apply to all individuals who are present at the field for hunting. one person should be 18 or older. 

Bag limits for popularly hunted wildlife species or the big game hunting animals like Bighorn sheep, Elk, Moose, Pronghorn, White-tailed deer, and Mule deer is one animal of the type mentioned on their license per individual every year.  

For upland species, the bag limit is up to 12 animals per day for every individual.

For various migratory birds and waterfowl species, the bag limit ranges from 2 birds per day to 15 birds per day. For some species like crows and ducks, there is no minimum bag limit.

Lastly, the bag limit for various furbearer and small game hunting species is 2-3 animal species per person with a proper license.

6.4 Landowner’s Permission

Only the landowner can post land by placing signs alongside a public highway or boundary, giving notice that no hunting is permitted on the land.

  • The person posting the land must appear on each sign in legible characters. 
  • The signs should be readable from outside the land and must be placed conspicuously and half a mile apart.
  • The land should be enclosed by a fence or other enclosure. Posting of signs at or on all gates through the fence or enclosure constitutes a posting of all the enclosed land.

Hunting on posted lands without permission from the landowner is against the law that is a punishable offense by a suspension of hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for a period of at least one year.

It is against the law to hunt in unharvested cereal and oilseed crops, including sprouted winter wheat, alfalfa, clover, and other grasses grown for seed, without the landowner’s consent.

It is illegal to take down or destroy posting signs.

6.5 Orange Clothing Requirements

All the hunters are needed to wear a head covering and an outer garment above the waistline of solid daylight fluorescent orange color, totaling at least 400 square inches. This requirement does not apply to elk and moose hunting seasons.

Effectiveness of Blaze Orange –

6.6 Hunting Hours

Hunting hours start half an hour before sunrise and end half an hour after the sunset except for the opening day.

Hunters should be engaged in any hunting activity, leave any stand or blind, and must be in the process of leaving any stand or blind and must be in the process of leaving the sector at the close of shooting hours.

6.7 Shooting Ranges

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department manages five public shooting ranges in its wildlife management areas. These are generally open to the public year-round.

However, the department may periodically close these shooting ranges for routine maintenance, improvements, and special events. 

6.7.1 Shooting Range Rules

  • Range open from sunrise to sunset
  • Tracer rounds or exploding targets prohibited
  • Only paper or cardboard targets allowed
  • All shooters must shoot from the same firing line to designated target stands
  • Ground-level targets are prohibited to minimize ricochets and projectiles escaping the property
  • Destroying targets posts or other property is restricted.
  • Only handheld or shoulder-fired guns allowed
  • Fully automatic weapons, including slide fire stocks, are not allowed
  • .50 caliber or larger centerfire rifles are also not allowed
  • Alcohol is restricted while hunting
Bowhunting Safety and Regulations – NDGNF – 08-20-20

6.8 Concealed Carry Deadly Weapons Permit

North Dakota law authorizes every individual who would rather be eligible for a concealed carry permit (known in North Dakota as “firearm and dangerous weapon license”) to hold concealed firearms without a permit if they have possessed a drivers license.

6.9 Gun Safety Rules

  • Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
  • Always keep finger off the trigger till able to shoot
  • Always keep the action open and piece unloaded till able to use
  • Do not handle firearms at the firing line whereas 
  • Others area unit down vary in the slightest degree times
  • Know your target and what is beyond
  • Know where others are at all times
  • Be sure the gun is safe to operate
  • Know how to use your gun safely
  • Use only the correct ammunition for your gun
  • Wear ear and eye protection
  • Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting

6.10 Baiting

Hunting over bait is outlined as the placement and/or use of bait for attracting big game and alternatives of life to a selected location. 

Baits are not just limited to grains, minerals, salts, fruits, vegetables, hay, or any other natural or other factory-made foods.

The restriction is in place to help slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease of deer, moose, and elk that can cause long-term population declines if left unchecked. 

Also, putting bait for any purpose is prohibited in all American state Game and Fish Department and wildlife management areas.

Hunting big game over bait is also restricted on all U.S. Fish and life services, refuges and waterfowl production areas, U.S. Forest Service national grasslands, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed lands, and every American state school, park, and state forest service areas.

Hunters are reminded it is unlawful to hunt big game over bait or place bait to attract big game for hunting on both public and private land.

Hunter Safety Tips and Ethics – NDGNF – 10-8-2020


North Dakota is a state with huge tracts of land and has a variety of unique species for hunting and has lenient rules and regulations that have to be followed.

Other than hunting, there are plenty of opportunities like hiking and other activities depending upon your comfort. Here you will find something worth exploring.

For more information, please visit the North Dakota Game and Fish website:


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