The Big Game Tradition

February 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

I  beg any reader to honestly say they don’t know a deer hunter in North Dakota. While not every adult North Dakota citizen will hunt deer, it has more participants than any other form of hunting. Not a sports rivalry in our state claims nearly a hundred thousand participants.

In fact, to put every deer hunter in the state in a stadium, you’d fill the Alerus Center and Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, the Fargodome, and still need some of the Metrodome in Minneapolis for the overflow. While even at 90,000-plus North Dakota has significantly fewer deer hunters than our neighbor to the east, we have one of the top participation rates in the country.

Nearly 20 percent of North Dakota adults buy a deer license. This is important when it comes to understanding deer herd management and deer hunters in North Dakota.

One question always seems to rise to the surface, a version of “With North Dakota’s high deer population, wouldn’t party hunting help increase overall success so more tags are filled?”

Part of the answer is that in states like North Dakota which have a limited and specific number of deer licenses issued by unit, legalized party hunting would in the long run reduce a person’s chances for obtaining coveted licenses, such as those for whitetail bucks, mule deer bucks, or even muzzleloader bucks.

The number of buck licenses in any unit is limited. If party hunting were allowed, then a person could find, say, three other people who are not that interested in buck hunting (the spouse, kids, neighbors, etc.), or even deer hunting, but would go along anyway. Then the one real deer hunter could legally shoot four bucks. The result could be that three serious and dedicated hunters would go without a buck license that year.

Such a situation would eventually increase the level of dissatisfaction over not drawing a buck license on a more frequent basis, which is already a common complaint.

If party hunting were allowed in North Dakota, it would likely increase hunter success rates. Because Game and Fish manages deer on a unit basis, and issues specific licenses, the agency might have to reduce the overall number of licenses, especially buck licenses, to counter increased hunter success. This also would mean fewer hunters getting buck licenses than is currently the case.

Another question along those same lines deals with the ever-popular opinion that “everyone is doing it,” or more accurately, “some groups have always party-hunted for deer; allowing it would just legalize something that has been going on for years. Why worry about something that is difficult to enforce anyway?”

To address the second point, not everyone party hunts, or wants to. While the rule may be difficult to enforce, most people are honest and stay within the law. Plus, many hunters understand that “group limits” associated with party hunting are counter-productive to keeping young hunters interested.

The foundation of North Dakota hunting heritage is rooted in the hunter and the game, in terms of moral and ethical standards. It’s not simply about bagging as many deer as possible with the least effort possible. There’s something to be said for the doe hunter who spends multiple days in the field waiting for the right opportunity.


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