Preparing the North Dakota Deer Hunting Season

February 19, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

A prime target in the fall

A prime target in the fall

It’s April and I’m thinking about deer.

It’s not that I’m ready to bypass spring and summer and shoot right to autumn, but in the realm of wildlife management, fall is not the only time we think about deer. Even now, many conversations at work and play revolve around white-tailed deer.

Deer management was one of the featured topics at the spring Game and Fish Department Advisory Board meetings held last week in eastern North Dakota. All this month biologists are preparing the 2004 deer proclamation, which when finalized will kick off the application process for distributing next fall’s licenses.

As for interest in the outdoors, deer hunters come in second only to anglers in number of specific licenses sold. The state has about 90,000 individuals age 14 and older who hunt deer. Last year, Game and Fish offered more than 120,000 licenses, so many hunters could get more than one tag.

If you’ve followed deer hunting in North Dakota, you know the deer population is at historic highs in many parts of the state. Hunting success rates, surveys, and even the number of car/deer collisions back up what people personally observe.

The responsibility of managing deer for the state has prompted the Game and Fish Department to issue a record number of deer tags the past few years. This year’s proclamation could include a number higher than last year’s record.

The bulk of the increase from, say, five years ago has been white-tailed doe licenses.

While license sales and hunter opportunities overall are at a high level, it’s important to understand that not all of North Dakota is in the same situation. For instance, some parts of south central and southwestern North Dakota have white-tailed deer numbers at or below management goals.

The list of ideas and methodologies for reducing deer numbers in some of the state’s 38 units is long and varied. Hunters are doing their share. Nearly all of the 123,000 available were sold. Success rate for whitetail does is roughly 80 percent, and hunters who buy second, third or fourth licenses also fill those tags at about an 80 percent rate.

Many extra doe tags will be available again this fall

Many extra doe tags will be available again this fall

Statistics show most deer hunters apply for buck tags as a first choice, because doe tags are generally available after the first lottery. This has created even more pressure for limited buck licenses, as hunters know they can get one or more doe licenses – though not always in the unit they desire – if they are unsuccessful in drawing a buck license. Everyone who wants a license of some type can get one.

That wasn’t always the case. In the not-too-distant past, some hunters risked not hunting at all if they didn’t draw a buck license. Those who just wanted to hunt deer opted for a doe license as a first choice because in most units, the chances of drawing a doe license were better than for drawing a buck license.

Judging by interest and success the past couple of years, the Game and Fish Department believes hunters will continue to buy extra tags. Maintaining the $20 fee for residents and $50 for nonresidents ($200 in first lottery), assures the licenses won’t end up sitting on the kitchen table.

Hunting zones in North Dakota

Hunting zones in North Dakota

A change made last year that will carry over to this coming fall will allow archery hunters to receive second or third licenses within a couple weeks of the bow season opener. While some hunters wonder why they can’t just get two archery licenses, leftover tags are specific to antlerless deer in designated units. Allowing a second archery license, good for any deer statewide, defeats the purpose of trying to reduce the deer population in certain areas.

Deer applications should available in May. Between now and then biologists will iron out the details. For me, I need to get deer out of my mind and start thinking about fish.


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