Hunters in southwestern North Dakota may have seen an uptick in the number of deer tags offered this fall, but the number of turkey licenses will likely be taking a hit.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has cut the number of turkey licenses issued in the state from 8,210 in 2008, to 6,800 this year.
The hardest hit turkey hunting units in the state are Unit 17 in northern Billings and Golden Valley counties and Unit 4 in the southern half of those counties. Licenses have been cut by 50 and 40 percent, respectively.
"I guess we kind of noticed the last few years that production hadn't been real good in all those areas, but it was more noticeably down last year," Upland Game Management Supervisor for the NDGF, Stan Kohn said. "It just wasn't real good so we knew numbers were probably going to be down going into this spring."
On average, the majority of the hunting units in the southwest and western half of the state saw a drop in total licenses issued, with an average drop of 25-30 percent.
Unit 21, which includes parts of Hettinger and Adams counties remains closed again this year for turkey hunting.
Something that may come to a surprise to many is despite the lower number of licenses issued this year, Kohn said the population is comfortably within management goals.
"Even though the numbers are down, in reality we're probably more in line to where we want to see those turkey numbers in those units," Kohn said. "The happy medium is trying to provide enough hunting opportunity out there for those that want to hunt and keeping the numbers down so when we have a tough winter, landowners don't have anymore problems than they have to."
In fact, Randy Kreil, chief of the wildlife division for the NDGF, said the department raised the number of licenses about five years ago in an effort to cut back on depredation because of high population.
The management strategy worked and there are now fewer turkeys.
"Not that many years ago we had an overabundant turkey population out there and we actually extended the season into January to try to deal with that," Kreil said. "The drop in hunter success is obviously related to that there are fewer birds on the landscape."
Kreil said the turkey population in the Badlands area has a habit of going through cycles every couple of years and there isn't much to worry about.
In the eastern half of the state, Kohn said smaller units, where hunters expressed issues with finding turkeys last year have been consolidated into a couple larger units to provide more opportunities.
"We just went in there and made some adjustments on those unit boundaries to try to increase the size of those units," Kohn said.