Understanding game laws is no short task. In fact, it's generally a tall order, especially for one's home state. Understanding game and land laws in other states is even trickier, especially with different colloquial meanings for words. It is always beneficial for any intrepid and traveling hunter to first read the respective state's game laws. Laws are called proclamations in North Dakota. Proclamations, as far as it's concerned in North Carolina's terms, gnerally refer to an area of No Hunting. Eithe way, I quickly picked these things apart, and then started to contact others in my industry within North Dakota. Everybody in North Dakota hunts. The Whitetail Opener is almost a holiday, while pheasant season is de facto vacation for most men, children, and even women. Everybody also duck or goose hunts at least once. With all the wild game that is harvested, and indeed eaten there, it still surprises me how the state tends t have a very "robust" population. Maybe it's their nordic heritage. Either way, wild game is very much a part of the diet in North Dakota.
I'll try to break this down into three categories to give ya'll a basic understanding of game laws and myths. Trust me, it's tough to get a solid and consistent answer. I even had the North Dakota Game and Fish division give me conflicting answers. It's best to keep the regulation (or proclamation) digest with you at all times and follow it. In m experience, the game warden will just write the ticket and let the local magistrate or judge interpret the law...so always be on the safe side and err with caution!
Hunting Private Land - You can hunt private land in North Dakota - assuming it is not posted. Roughly 90% of the land is posted, and in many areas it's posted throughout. Some do have less posted lands. One point of conflict there is that the signs must be signed and dated for the current year and include the landowner's name and phone number. I saw very few current signs. However, much of the land is only posted for pheasants and deer. Most, nearly all in fact, landowners could care less about you shooting the blackheads off of their potholes. Just ask, and clean up after yourself (and anyone who has been in before you). I was never turned down for permission on posted land, but I never asked. I found ducks at other places. Posted land is considered posted if the gate to the fenced in property is posted or if the "POSTED" signs are set less than 880 yards apart. Usually, it's pretty obvious if it is posted. However, remember that it must be current for the year to be considered a legally posted land. Still, err on the side of caution and understand that odds are very good that the land is intended t be posted again. Deer season just happens to start after the good duck flights, so they haven't gotten to it yet. If you can't find a phone number, and it's not worth the effort to call the landowner, then don't sneak in to hunt it! Oh - and about the gate...if the gate is posted, it qualifies all land within the fence to be posted. If you're not sure about fenced property, find the gate! And the gates are tough to spot in some cases! "POSTED" signs will be found on wooden stobs, power line poles, fence posts, and even taped to buckets or old jugs weighted with concrete or any dense liquid! They come in all colors - Orange, Yellow, White, Black, and even very faded and natural-looking gray. Also, privately-owned land is not open to hunting by non-residents the first week of the resident pheasant season.
Hunting PLOTS Lands - PLOTS stands for Private Land Open To Sportsmen. It is marked with triangular yellow signs that state is as "PLOTS" lands. This land is abundant, and is usually left as natural grasses. It's the State of North Dakota's version of the Conservation Reserve Program. They receive credit for setting aside this land as PLOTS and aren't generally supposed to farm or graze cattle in it. But they do. I encountered this problem. It's illegal to hunt within 440 yards of livestock, but it's also against the rules to graze cattle in PLOTS land - it's kinda like double dipping. Again, err on the side of caution and report it to the proper officials. PLOTS lands do hold wildlife. Most are fairly easy to spot, and a PLOTS guide, which is a book of regional maps, shows the acreage and any roads or paths that access the lands. They are a useful tool, assuming you can read a map. Also, PLOTS lands are for foot traffic only. No driving out in the fields! Here's the deal, though. PLOTS are generally not as good as private lands. The landowners, as the legend goes, generally hunt their own PLOTS lands first, then switch to their posted lands when non-residents are allowed to go afield. It's a pretty dirty trick. Either way, not all landowners do that, and to be honest, there are some many ducks, and so many potholes, hunters can find concentrations of birds with some effort. I also utilized several PLOTS that were not visible from the road, too. Each pothole that was tucked over a hill or beyond a shelter belt held excellent amounts of birds. The walk was well worth it. And a shelter belt is the equivalent of a "wind break" in North Carolina - it's just trees planted in a row to provide cover for pheasants and to protect an area from wind.
Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA's) - WPA's just sound like they should be packed to the gills with waterfowl. Sometimes, they are. Many of these WPA's though are intended to PRODUCE WATERFOWL, as in nest waterfowl. Migration time finds these areas generally useless, though. Certainly, many of them held birds, just not great amounts. Generally, WPA's (which are bought with Duck Stamp dollars) are permanent wetlands, and have a lot of alkalinity to the water. Therefore, they don't feature the amazing plantlife that many temporary or season potholes contain. Still, the permanence of the WPA's does allow for nesting on islands and in the deep cattails...which keeps ducks protected from predators. I'd say that about 50% of the WPA's I saw had ducks. Only about 2% of them had a huntable amount of birds. And by huntable, I mean, at least two different species, and at least 3 different concentrations or rafts in the same area. Also, ponds and potholes with swans were a good bet, too. Swans will use an area more heavily and consistently than migrating ducks, but they do seem to always have ducks with them, whether they flew in three days, or three hours before. Also - many of the WPA's, since they are permanent, are also fairly deep. Some are as deep as 30 feet in the middle. However, they are excellent places to shoot divers. When I hunted WPA's I tried to select smaller ones, so that the persistent wind would blow the deceased to the far side and I would only have a short walk to retrieve it when the hunt concluded.
Other Lands - There are Wildlife Management Areas, which are the equivalent to North Carolina's Game Lands, as well as State Surface Land tracts, National Wildlife Refuges (some are open to hunting), Pheasants Forever Cooperator Land Tracts (most open to hunting), Nature Conservancy lands (Most open to hunting), National Grasslands (Some open to hunting), and then there are the larger bodies of water - such as rivers and very large lakes) that are available to. Devils Lake - the lake, not the town - is open to hunting in most stretches of open water. The western part of the lake is a bit shallower and tends to have more vegetation. It held hundreds of thousands of divers while I was there. A layout rig of float rig would be devastating there. Some roadside hunting on causeways was done, but it seemed strange. Also, many people will tell you that roads are laid out in square mile blocks and that travel is easy. Actually, the roads are laid out fairly evenly, but there is not necessarily a road every mile. Some are grown up, some are impassable, many are covered by water (but some are drive-able), many hold signs that say "No Winter Maintenance", and some have real life street signs. Most of the roads are very slick thanks to the bentonite clay. When it is wet, it swells and becomes very slippery. It's tough to drive and walk on. Also - under powerlines, you'll see small white signs...they don't say "POSTED"...insted they simply read "Do Not Cultivate Under Power Line". The truth is that there are lots of lands that are accessible, but walking will take as much time as driving.
Other facts that you should know about the state, that I found to be factual, anyway...
1) The beef there is great. I had a couple of very good steaks.
2) When it gets cold, it happens quick. And the wind is incessant. It is a constant companion, both the feel and the sound.
3) Minnesotan hunters are everywhere. They are the equivalent of our South Carolina non-residents. Most seem to be a little ignorant or rude.
4) There are little to zero ducks west of the Missouri River. But there are bison (which North Dakotans pronounce "BI-zen"), mule deer, pheasants, wild sheep, wild horses, cougars, wolves, bears, and even moose west of the Missouri.
5) The landscape of the state, east to west, goes from flat to hilly to rugged.
6) There are potholes almost everywhere. And the sky and the land seem much, much bigger than in North Carolina. The elevation in North Dakota ranges from about 1200 feet to over 3000 feet on the prairies. Expect some hills to ascend and descend to get to that magical pothole.
7) Canola is a real plant and it gets planted in North Dakota...along with wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and almost any other commodity crop.
8) Most radio stations play country music interrupted by the reports of the weather and the farm exchange in Chicago. I always found it entertaining and educational.
9) Goose hunting is much more prevalent in the northern reaches of the state.
10) The 10 best towns to headquarter yourself, based on where others were headquartering are 1) Devils Lake, (2)Minnewauken, (3) Rugby, (4)Lakota, (5)Cando, (6) Grand Forks, (7) Hampden, (8) Rolla, (9) Rollette, and (10) Langdon. I'm not sure that these towns were preferred based on ducks, but more so on the lodging, fueling, and food-getting opportunities that barely abound.
I'm sure I'll think of more stuff, but as I get into the hunt details beyond this post, there'll be informative hints I'm sure I'll drop...