Luck of the draw
Come July, North Dakota hunters will be eagerly awaiting a letter from the North Dakota Game and Fish in their mailboxes, some patiently, some not so patiently.
The reason for the eagerness?
Hunters want to start planning for the fall's deer hunting trips, and that letter will tell them what type of deer they'll be seeking.
Before hunters get that letter, they need to apply. Applications are due Wednesday, June 4.
"If you want any chance at your first choice, you need to have your application in for the first lottery," Wildlife Division Assistant Chief Greg Link said.
Link said the most sought after licenses are still mule whitetail buck tags.
The number of tags available this year has been set at 149,400 licenses, up 850 from last year. The Game and Fish Department has been steadily increasing the number of licenses over the last few years to help keep populations down in several parts of the state Link said.
With the increases, the state has seen a higher number of applications for antlered deer each year.
"Now in this day in age you can have your cake and eat it too," Link said. "More and more people are saying they don't have anything to lose putting in for an antlered license right away and they can always put back in for a doe license."
Link said hunters that used to be interested in hunting for the meat aspect, but didn't want to risk not getting a license would apply simply for a doe tag.
Now with an increased number of licenses there isn't as much of a risk of missing out on a hunting opportunity, especially with the second draw.
"Those most desirable licenses are taken in the first lottery, then there is the second draw." Link said. "Therefore, I risk nothing at all putting in for an antlered tag. Whereas 10 years ago, if people want the meat they would apply for the doe tag."
In recent years, there have been doe tags left over in certain units, which were then available for purchase. Several states issue licenses in ways other than a lottery, some allow them to be bought over the counter, but Link said the lottery format won't be changing anytime soon.
"We have a prescription of the number of license and the number of animals we want taken from a certain area," Link said. "In a lot of areas we're getting the harvest that we're prescribing, we're getting 75 percent."
Link did say that there are areas of the state that could use some more traffic from hunters where they haven't been reaching their management goals.
"We haven't have any trouble having people apply, it's just in some units the number of hunters we need we aren't getting enough interest there," Link said. "That's why we're using this new approach in 2C and 2D."
The two units mentioned by Link will host an antlerless deer season from Sept. 26 through Oct. 2. Those individuals who hold antlerless permits in those units can fill their tag during this time period.
The September season is part of a new, aggressive management plan that the Game and Fish instituted in 2004. After two years of harvest not meeting expectations in 2C and 2D, which are in the northeastern part of the state, they decided they needed to take a different approach.
"We're making a significant effort; we've been pretty aggressive in the last couple years in trying to reduce deer numbers," Game and Fish big game biologist Bill Jensen said. "That's really been pretty effective in most units, but there have been some areas where we haven't seen as much success."
Jensen said there are hunters out there looking for the deer but sometimes there are other factors at work.
"It's primarily an access issue where land gets posted up and deer congregate on posted land and are not accessible by hunters," Jensen said. "And they don't get harvested during the gun season...The most effective way of managing deer numbers is with the gun."
In an effort to help hunters find access to the deer the want to hunt the Game and Fish has developed the Landowner Contact Program.
Through the program, landowners can contact the Game and Fish and inform them of their interest for hunters to come onto their land to harvest does on their property.
Hunters who let the Game and Fish know they are interested in finding a hunting area will be put on a list and then mailed the landowners contact information. Only those participating in the program will be mailed the landowner contact information Jensen said.
"In North Dakota I don't think people realize how many absentee landowners there are and how difficult it is for a hunter to track down who owns a particular piece of land," Jensen said.
Jensen and Link said there are plenty of hunting opportunities throughout the state, but in order to take advantage of them hunters need to get their applications in.
"It's a lottery system so if they want the best chance to draw it (their deer of choice) the first lottery has the best chance," Jensen said. "...There's going to be a lot of opportunity and I hope people take advantage of it."