The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has announced that regulations for this fall's deer gun season have been set. The big change is that 5,800 fewer deer gun licenses will be available to the state's hunters. The reduction is the same amount Game and Fish presented to deer hunters during a recent session of Advisory Board meetings held at eight locations within the state.
That means only 59,500 deer licenses will be issued this fall. It is the lowest number of licenses to be issued since the 1983 season. Hunter success was 63 percent in 2012 and just 52 percent in 2011, well below the long-term average.
"We managed 70 percent-plus success for 15 to 20 years prior to 2008," said Randy Kreil, Wildlife Division chief. "I'd like to have everybody get one deer license and a 70 percent success rate, but nature and weather doesn't always work perfectly."
A series of harsh winters is cited as a primary reason for a decline in the state's deer population. However, other factors are known to contribute to the trend of fewer deer. A return to the high numbers of deer in past years may no longer be possible.
"We are concerned about loss of habitat. Without habitat you don't have that base for wildlife to exist," explained Kreil. "We're seeing a tremendous amount of habitat being lost in this state."
Habitat such as shelter belts and native prairie and wetlands are increasingly giving way to higher farm prices. Energy development, particularly in western North Dakota, has impacted wildlife habitat too. It means less room for wildlife, deer included.
"We know that 150,000 deer licenses a few years ago was way too many," said Kreil. "I'd like to be able to meet the demand of about 100,000 people who want to deer hunt each year, 90,000 to 100,000 want to go deer hunting every year. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors out of our control. We have a lot of unknowns and uncertainty as we move forward for deer hunting in this state."
Game and Fish has established "management goals" for deer populations in each deer gun hunting unit in the state. Current deer populations are below management goals in 34 of the state's 38 units. Additionally, mule deer numbers in western North Dakota have declined so much that no doe permits will be issued for the second consecutive year.
"We do see some reason for optimism for mule deer," remarked Kreil. "The spring mule deer survey did show positive trends, with numbers up 15 percent over last year. Any increase in mule deer is welcome at this point."
Kreil cited a closed mule deer doe season in 2012 as a possible contributor to the slight increase in mule deer numbers this year. He also thanked deer hunters for their understanding and patience in dealing with fewer licenses. For some it will mean staying at home this fall.
"The fact that we have 5,800 fewer permits means a lot of people this year will go without any deer license at all. Last year 25,000 in the first lottery didn't get a license," said Kreil. "This year we anticipate the same situation and a number of people will sit out the deer gun season. We know deer hunting is important to people and I will say deer hunters are understanding of the situation."
North Dakota's deer gun season opens Nov. 8 at noon and continues through Nov. 24.