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Brian Gehring, The Bismarck Tribune , Published November 04 2012

ND deer gun season to have fewer hunters

BISMARCK – This week, slightly more than 65,000 people will take to the fields for the North Dakota deer gun opener.

In 2011, there were 110,000 hunters who had licenses for the deer gun season.

Hunters – and wildlife biologists alike – will find out after the Friday opener if last year’s mild winter helped the deer population rebound in the state.

The deer population is still reeling from three consecutive brutal winters from 2008-10 that knocked back numbers across North Dakota. Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said those three winters resulted in a lot of adult mortality in deer coupled with low fawn production the following springs. Adult does were stressed because of heavy snow and poor physical condition. Kreil said the circumstances created a perfect storm of sorts for deer.

Those three winters came on the heels of a decade of aggressive management practices that allowed hunters in some cases to draw three or more tags during the same gun season. Kreil said it wasn’t that many years ago when the number of available deer licenses in the state approached 150,000. It will be a different deer gun season for many hunters, or no season at all.

A year ago, there were about 99,000 resident applications for a license in the first lottery drawing. With no extra tags available this year, that means more than 30,000 people didn’t draw into a license at all.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a bad season. There are a number of factors at play that work in hunters’ favor.

“The winter of 2011 was just what the doctor ordered,” Kreil said, in terms of there being more deer on the landscape.

Kreil said there was little mortality over last winter because of the mild weather, so does went into the spring in good physical condition.

Whitetails are fairly adaptable when it comes to finding new food sources, but that is not the case with mule deer. The three bad winters put a substantial dent in mulie fawn production. The fawn-per-doe ratio of 0.59, in 2011, was a record low in North Dakota. Another factor working against mule deer is the increased oil activity in western North Dakota.