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John Odermann , Published November 07 2008

ND students ditch class for deer opener

DICKINSON, N.D. – There are only a few days each year that reliably affect school attendance in North Dakota.

Today’s deer hunting season opener is one of them.

“Ever since I was in high school in Devils Lake there was all kinds of young people who missed school for the opening day of deer season – it was almost expected,” said Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

According to information gathered by the Dickinson Press from southwestern North Dakota high schools, that remains the case today.

On average, 15 percent to 20 percent of students there take off the opening day of deer season.

To compensate for parent-teacher conferences, many schools have started scheduling comp days on deer opener. Dickinson Trinity High School has scheduled such a comp day this year.

“We had a group who got together, and some of our conversation was that with the number of students that would be gone, let’s just comp that day out on Friday and go that direction,” said former Trinity Superintendent and Principal Kelly Koppinger.

Vince Reep, a Dickinson Public Schools official, said Dickinson High was not in session on the deer opener last year, but he knows the occasion has had an impact in the past. He added that rural communities’ schools are more affected.

Gary Wilz, superintendent in Killdeer, said there probably aren’t as many kids absent on the deer opener as in the past, but the effect is still noticeable.

An expanded deer hunting season has taken some of the urgency out of skipping school, he said.

“I think you saw a greater sense of urgency to get out and probably more kids wanted to get out” when the season was shorter, Wilz said.

Hettinger Public School Principal Brian Christopherson said the number of absent students can fluctuate from year to year, but they, too, work it into the schedule when they can.

“In the past, to be honest, we’ve had many of those days off,” Christopherson said. “Just realizing that kids are going to be gone already and staff members who want to go hunting.”

And Christopherson said he doesn’t see it as a bad thing because most students go hunting with their parents or other family members.

“Nowadays you don’t see as much time with parents and their children, and this is a great opportunity,” he said. “I think that’s important in the process of education and keeping family close and talk about what’s going on in their life.”

Kreil, the wildlife division chief, said he’s glad North Dakota schools realize how deeply rooted is the state’s hunting heritage.

A recent study conducted by Responsive Management out of Virginia found the majority of North Dakota hunters have their first hunting experience on a deer hunt.

Kreil said giving up one day of class time can give kids a whole lifetime of classes and learning experiences in the outdoors.

“I think what it does is it just re-emphasizes just how important of a tradition deer hunting is in this state,” Kreil said.

The Dickinson Press and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.