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Doug Leier, Published May 22 2012

Leier: It's not too early to start thinking about deer licenses


It’s not even June, but the chatter along river banks, fishing piers, boat landings and bait shops isn’t just about where the fish are biting or the big one that got away. In fact, every year around the backside of May, there’s almost as much talk about deer season.

A few years ago on a Sunday after church, during an informal information session on the ins and outs of the early June deer application deadline, one spouse exclaimed, “Why don’t you guys just go fishing and forget about all this deer talk? The season doesn’t open for six months.”

While she was correct about the season opener, the discussion was important, as hunters who want a license need to get their application in on time – this year by June 6.

In a perfect world every hunter would get the exact license they want in the unit they prefer every year. But because the State Game and Fish Department manages deer in defined units, license numbers aren’t unlimited, and therefore many units do not have enough buck licenses for everyone who would like one.

In some units, the demand for buck licenses is so much higher than supply that it can take several years of applying for the odds to even out in the hunter’s favor.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Game and Fish first started its weighted lottery system, which serves to even the odds for receiving high-demand licenses over time, but I still get a fair number of inquiries about how the weighted lottery works. Here are some questions and answers as the 2012 deer application deadline approaches.

E What species are covered by the weighted lottery?

First lotteries for deer gun, muzzleloader deer, pronghorn, swan, and spring and fall wild turkey.

E How do bonus points accrue in the weighted lottery?

An applicant unsuccessful in drawing his or her first choice license in the first lottery this year receives a bonus point for next year’s lottery. In addition, the bonus point is doubled, so the hunter has three chances to get a license versus a hunter who received a first choice the previous year.

After four unsuccessful years in a row, the bonus points are cubed in the fifth year. While that greatly increases the odds for a long-time unsuccessful applicant, there is never a guarantee. Someone who receives his or her first this year still has that one chance next year. For some licenses, particularly antlered mule deer and whitetail bucks in a few units, demand greatly exceeds supply and many applicants have the same number of bonus points.

EDo I have to apply every year to maintain accumulated bonus points?

No, several years ago Game and Fish added a one-year grace period, so a hunter could miss a year without losing points. However, an applicant loses his or her bonus points by failing to apply for two consecutive years.

EIf I receive a license for my second choice, do I lose my bonus points?

No, bonus points apply only to the first choice in the first lottery.

EIf I have bonus points and apply with a party, how does this affect me?

On party applications, the person with fewest points sets the level for the entire application. Applicants with more bonus points than others in the party have a better chance by applying separately.

EWhy do applications ask for a social security number and do I have to give it?

Yes. State law requires social security numbers on all license applications in order for the state to receive human services funding from the federal government.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com