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By Brad Dokken / Forum News Service, Published August 18 2013

North Dakota bow season hits record number

GRAND FORKS – No immediate changes are on the horizon, but an increase in bow hunting participation and success could someday factor into deer management in North Dakota if the trend continues, a Game and Fish Department official says.

The Game and Fish Department announced last week that archery hunters last year shot an estimated 6,856 deer for a success rate of 35.4 percent – an all-time high. The department issued 19,940 resident archery licenses and 2,336 nonresident bow licenses last year, which is 245 more than the previous record in 2010, the department said.

The harvest included 6,440 whitetails and 416 mule deer; about 71 percent of the whitetail harvest and 96 percent of the mule deer take was adult bucks.

The archery report comes on the heels of this year’s deer gun lottery, in which some 44,000 deer hunters received the news they didn’t draw a gun season tag. Game and Fish this year offered 59,500 deer gun licenses – 5,800 fewer than last year and the lowest since 1983. By comparison, the department issued more than 145,000 licenses in 2004.

According to Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the increase in archery hunters last fall wasn’t a surprise, given the downtrend in gun licenses. Most archery licenses can be purchased over the counter.

“What was surprising to us was with the lowest deer numbers in 30 years, we had 35 percent success for archery,” he said.

Game and Fish attributes the drop in deer numbers to three consecutive severe winters from 2009 to 2011, several years of aggressive harvest and loss of habitat.

Unlike rifle and muzzleloader licenses, there’s no limit on the number of whitetail tags available to either resident or nonresident bow hunters. Nonresident “any deer” archery deer tags are set at 15 percent of the previous year’s deer gun licenses.

Kreil attributes the uptick in bow hunting success to improved archery equipment and baiting, which remains legal on private land in North Dakota.

Kreil, who was among the 44,000 hunters who didn’t draw a deer gun tag this year, said rifle hunters for years have expressed concern about the guaranteed opportunities for bow hunters.

Dokken writes for the Grand Forks Herald