Doug Leier, Published September 25 2012
Leier: Even without a license, deer hunting season can still be enjoyable
As a game warden and then an outreach biologist serving North Dakota’s most populated county and two of the five largest cities over the past 15 years, I have been kept hopping with the fall hunting seasons.
From answering questions and taking care of licensing issues, especially as deer season approaches, I sometimes feel like an accountant during tax season.
No complaints here, though. While I’ve always enjoyed hunting, I can say with a smile that I take pride in helping others enjoy the outdoors, and if that means extra hours on nights and weekends helping smooth out the bumps in the road for hunters and anglers in the area, that’s what the job is all about.
So for the past few years, knowing full well between work and family commitments that my personal deer hunting season was measured in hours and not days, I have intentionally waited for the first and second lottery to pass before applying for a deer license. This year, for the same reason, I didn’t put in, knowing full well that would likely mean no license at all.
So for this year, I’ll get my taste of deer season from the service side of the annual tradition.
This year’s initial deer lottery had around 17,000 fewer individual applicants, compared to nearly 100,000 in 2011. Lower deer populations and reduced success from the past year are likely contributors to the decrease in interest.
With a little over 66,000 licenses available, this fall North Dakota will have thousands of would-be deer hunters who won’t have a tag.
Over the past few months, I’ve heard many comments from deer hunters who drew a license and those who didn’t. Some were frustrated because they will miss their first hunt in years. Others expressed an understanding that if the goal is to grow the deer herd, going without a license for a year to help reduce harvest is not somebody else’s job.
So, what to do if this is an off year from deer hunting with a rifle?
Once the reality sets in, alternatives are easy to formulate. For some, it might mean a new plan for the deer opener for the first time since … ever?
I’ve heard from some hunters, though, who aren’t making any changes in their deer opener plans, other than they won’t be carrying a rifle. The tradition of deer camp is a strong enough draw that just being camp cook or brush buster is enough for one year.
Fortunately, North Dakota has many other options as well. Archery deer licenses are available throughout the season. Judging by the uptick in electronic archery license purchases this year, it appears that at least some hunters are possibly pursuing this route.
The pheasant, duck, goose and grouse seasons are all open in November and offer plenty of late-season opportunities. Pursuing those other species may mean sharing the fields and sloughs with other hunters, so it’s a good idea to wear blaze orange while hunting upland birds, and while traveling to and from waterfowl hunting setups.
With a little bit of planning, it is possible to enjoy deer season without a license. I’ve done it myself before and will again this year, though like most everyone else, I’m hoping for increasing license numbers in the years ahead.
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