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N.D. deer licenses down nearly 20 percent

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After five years of reducing gun licenses, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is dropping the available amount to its lowest number since 1980.

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The 2014 deer season will have 48,000 available licenses, 11,500 less than last year -- about 20 percent.

Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the Game and Fish, said the number of deer licenses has dropped more than 100,000 since 2007. Deer populations are below management objectives in most units. The only units that meet or exceed management goals are 3F1, 3F2 and 4F, which are areas in extreme southwest North Dakota that all border South Dakota.

“Reducing deer licenses is the first option when trying to rebuild your deer herd,” Kreil said. “The Game and Fish isn’t adverse to doing so. As we’ve shown since 2007, we’ve been reducing deer licenses. Sometimes that’s what you need to do to get the deer population to rebound and that’s what we are hoping for.”

The statewide hunter success rate in 2013 was 55 percent, which is lower than the 63 percent in 2012 and below the department’s goal of 70 percent.

Kreil said there are three main factors which can determine deer populations in the future.

  • Number of licenses available.
  • Severity of winters.
  • Stability of natural habitat.

The only factor Game and Fish can control is the number of licenses released every season.

If the hunter success rate drops below 60 percent, the Game and Fish have to make sure it doesn’t continually happen.

“Anytime (hunter’s success rate) drops below 60 percent, it’s something to be concern about,” Kreil said. “It’s another indication on why the deer licenses have been reduced.”

In western North Dakota, the number of antlered mule deer licenses was slightly increased. However, no antlerless mule deer licenses are available in the southwest North Dakota units of 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F for the third straight year.The restriction applies to regular gun, resident and nonresident any-deer bow, gratis and youth licenses.

The number of licenses available for 2014 includes 1,350 for antlered mule deer, 932 for muzzleloader and 134 restricted youth antlered mule deer. It’s an increase of 200 for antlered mule deer, a decrease of 270 for muzzleloader and 19 more for youth.

The 2014 North Dakota deer gun season opens Nov. 7 at noon and continues through Nov. 23. Online applications for the regular deer gun, youth, muzzleloader and resident gratis and nonresident landowner seasons will be available May 5 through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.

A new state law requires residents age 18 or older to prove residency on the application by submitting a valid North Dakota driver’s license number or a North Dakota non-driver photo identification number. Applications will not be processed without this information.

Gratis applications received on or before the regular deer gun lottery application deadline, June 4, will be issued any legal deer license. As per state law, applications received after the deadline will be issued based on licenses remaining after the lottery — generally only antlerless licenses remain.

Mule deer spring survey numbers

The Game and Fish conducted its annual spring mule deer survey in April and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population has increased 19 percent from last year.

Big game supervisor Bruce Stillings said the increase is a result of less severe winters the past couple of years, no harvest of antlerless deer in 2012 and 2013, and improved fawn production. The 2014 index is only 7 percent below the long-term average.

“Mule deer numbers are headed in the right direction, but in order to maintain further population growth we need to maintain a conservative management approach, with no antlerless mule deer harvest again in 2014,” Stillings said in a press release.

Biologists counted 1,944 mule deer in 306.3 square miles. Overall mule deer density in the Badlands was 6.3 deer per square mile, which is up from 5.3 deer per square mile in 2013, and slightly below the long-term average of 6.8 deer per square mile.

“Although this year’s increase in mule deer is encouraging, there are long-term challenges facing mule deer in the Badlands,” Stillings stated in a press release. “While fawn production increased in 2013, it is still below average. We also have encroachment of Rocky Mountain juniper, predators, winter weather and changes in habitat quality due to fragmentation and disturbance.”

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