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Deer hunting season has potential for tag holders

Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald on

Published in Outdoors

North Dakota hunters last year shot about 29,300 deer during the gun season for a success rate of 66 percent, department statistics show. Hunter success for whitetail bucks was 72 percent, and hunters with antlerless tags had a success rate of 60 percent.

The average hunter last year spent 4.4 days in the field.

Game and Fish revisits deer management goals every five years, and during the last goal-setting process in 2015, the department set a goal of building deer numbers to the point where it could offer 75,000 deer gun licenses yet maintain a hunter success rate of 70 percent, which has become the benchmark for North Dakota deer hunters.

That goal could be a bit lofty, managers concede.

"It could be on track if the weather helps, but we're also losing a lot of habitat out there," said Bill Jensen, big game biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck. "We got really used to having millions of acres of CRP and that's not there anymore.

"The effect of that is, when the weather is nice, we can get by, but when it's not, that's just another added stress. Plus, it reduces fawning cover for does, bedding sites for fawns in the spring and all of those other necessities."

Anecdotally, Jensen said it appears whitetail fawn production this year "probably wasn't too bad" in the southeast and southwest parts of the state. The north-central and eastern parts of North Dakota continue to lag, but the outlook could have been even worse if the cold and snow that hit in December and early January had persisted throughout the winter.

"Last winter started off a little scary," Jensen said. "It warmed up in late February, and I think a lot of deer came out fine. The portion of the state that was hardest hit was up in that Langdon country, which seems to find a way to get a real winter every year."

In the west, mule deer numbers overall have rebounded nicely, Williams said, thanks to several years of no antlerless tags and some nicer winters in the Badlands. Results from the Game and Fish Department's annual spring mule deer survey in April showed a 16 percent population increase from the previous year. The department issued mule deer doe tags in units 4B and 4C for the first time since 2011, although no antlerless licenses were available in unit 4A for the sixth consecutive year.

"We feel pretty good about mule deer numbers and about the recovery and the comeback that mule deer have done," Williams said. "Other than one of the northern units, we're issuing antlerless tags in most units and that's a good sign. All in all, things are looking pretty good on the mule deer front."

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