Doug Leier, Published May 15 2012
Leier: No two deer hunting seasons are alike
North Dakota’s lower deer and pheasant populations in recent years have generated many discussions. In terms of recent history, the numbers are smaller, but compare the deer license allocation from the 1970s, or pheasant harvest numbers from the early 1980s, and hunters have a little more to consider.
Wildlife populations will always ebb and flow depending on weather patterns and large-scale habitat changes.
A few years back, the State Game and Fish Department issued nearly 150,000 deer licenses. The objective was to reduce the state’s deer population to a more manageable level.
At that time, Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for the Game and Fish Department, reminded hunters who were accustomed to buying multiple doe licenses that those “good times” would likely not last forever. They did last, however, through a good share of the 2000s, thanks to nearly a decade of generally mild winters coupled with expanded habitat provided by the Conservation Reserve Program.
The CRP contracts started to expire en masse in fall 2007, and the first of three straight severe winters started early in fall 2008.
That weather and habitat scenario, coupled with aggressive doe harvest designed to reduce the population even without habitat loss or severe winters, now has North Dakota’s whitetail and mule deer populations well below desirable levels.
The 2012 deer season is designed to turn that population trend around, meaning a significant reduction in whitetail doe licenses, and no harvest at all of mule deer does within the primary mule deer units. Survey numbers from earlier this spring indicate mule deer in the badlands are down 23 percent from last year and 52 percent below 2007.
Game and Fish is making 65,300 licenses available to hunters this fall, 44,650 fewer than last year and the lowest since 1988.
Considering that more than 90,000 North Dakotans applied for a deer license last year, Kreil expects there will be very few, if any licenses remaining after the initial lottery, and Game and Fish is allowing only one license for the deer gun season this year. Even at that level, however, many would-be hunters will likely go without a license this year.
Hunters can, however, apply for a muzzleloader license in addition to a deer gun license, and archery tags are also available to anyone who wants to hunt deer with a bow. Archery hunters, however, may not take mule deer does this year.
North Dakota’s 2012 deer gun season opens Nov. 9 at noon and continues through Nov. 25. Online applications for the regular deer gun, youth, muzzleloader, and resident gratis and nonresident landowner seasons are available through the Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.nd.gov. Also, paper applications are now available at license vendors throughout the state.
Total deer licenses are determined by harvest rates, aerial surveys, deer-vehicle collision reports, depredation reports, hunter observations, input at advisory board meetings, and comments from the public, landowners and department field staff.
No two deer seasons are ever alike, but one constant is that each one has an application deadline for the first lottery. This year, that deadline to apply is June 6.
Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Leier’s blog can be found online