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North Dakota hunting season on tundra swans ends

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Courtesy Photo Tundra swan lazily swim around Lake Audubon, in Mclean County, in this undated photo.

With only six states in the U.S. allowing the harvest of tundra swans and hunters from about 40 states coming to North Dakota to try their shot at the trophy bird, this year's statewide season yielded the highest harvest number to date.

Nationwide, 9,600 swan hunting permits are allotted and North Dakota has 2,200 of those. Each hunter is allowed one swan per season.

"Usually about 80 percent or so of the people that get tags are actually avid hunters and of that, you have probably about 50-percent success rate," said Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish Department waterfowl biologist. "Typically our harvest is around 700 birds."

This year was a different story with about 950 birds, Szymanski said, adding harvest numbers vary year to year.

That variation can be attributed to bad aim, different migration patterns and climate.

"By my estimations, it seems like it was a pretty good year for swans," Szymanski said. "I think people were able to get at them."

Szymanski said wetland conditions coming out of the drought cycle were excellent, producing lots of forage for the swans.

"We had a lot of birds around for quite a while," Szymanski said.

Long-term population projections have been steadily increasing the past 15 years, remaining relatively stable, bouncing around 95,000 to 100,000 birds, Szymanski said.

"The population is doing well," Szymanski said.

With the season open from Oct. 3 to Jan. 3, tags are sold over-the-counter or via a lottery.

"Usually we sell out of the tags fairly quickly, in the over-the-counter point of sale," Szymanski said.

Tundra swans generally migrate west to east.

Before they arrive in North Dakota, the birds travel from Alaska's North Slope, down through the Rocky Mountains into northern Canada.

After stopping in North Dakota, the birds move onto the Great Lakes, down the Atlantic Seaboard from Maryland to South Carolina.

"North Carolina probably has most of the wintering birds," Szymanski said.

Swan hunting is allowed in Montana, the Dakotas, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.

With a 5-to 6-foot wing span, the birds can be difficult to mount.

"They're so big that that limits what people can do with them as far as taxidermy goes," Szymanski said. "They are definitely a trophy bird."

While there is no limit on which age birds can be harvested, the younger birds are generally more gray.

The bird can be eaten as well, but is seemingly an acquired taste.

"They're pretty good table fare," Szymanski said.

Tim Zachmeier, Bureau of Land Management Dickinson Field Office biologist, said he has harvested tundra swan twice.

"That's probably your biggest time- consuming thing is just locating the bird," Zachmeier said. "Hunting them is the luck of the draw."

Zachmeier said he has eaten tundra swan in the form of jerky.

"They don't taste well at all," Zachmeier said. "They're not the best table fare."

Biologist by profession, Zachmeier is also a taxidermist.

"With a 6-foot wingspan you've got to have a place to put them," Zachmeier said. "They make a nice mount for anybody's trophy room because it's kind of an oddity.

"They're not very common, not everybody has one or not everyone's harvested one."