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Optimism in deer season despite low numbers

As the 2013 deer application period progresses toward the June 5 deadline, I'm struck by the thought that no prospective hunter under the age of 40 has ever applied for the lottery when fewer licenses were available than this year.

Actually, the cutoff line is about age 44, or those 14-year-olds who applied for a deer license in 1983, the last time the total available was less than 60,000.

While the North Dakota deer population is essentially at a 30-year low, I'm still sensing a fair amount of optimism from hunters who understand it takes more than one mild winter and one year of reduced doe licenses to rebuild the population.

At the same time, most deer hunters also understand that because of loss of habitat that has taken place over the last five years, the next peak population -- whenever that occurs -- will likely be significantly lower than the last peak, which occurred around 2006-2007.

Weather, of course, also plays a major role, and winter 2012-13 was the fourth in the last five years that was not friendly to deer.

Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the State Game and Fish Department, said after a significant reduction in gun licenses in 2012, harvest and survey data revealed deer populations are still below management objectives in most units. As such, the allocation of 59,500 deer licenses for 2013 was lower than last year.

"The winter of 2012-13 was severe in the northern and eastern portions of the state, which will impede population recovery in those areas," Kreil said. "Furthermore, high-quality deer habitat continues to be lost statewide and will limit the potential for population recovery."

Currently, all hunting units in the state are below management objectives except in 3E2, 3F1, 3F2 and 4F.

Out west, mule deer licenses in the Badlands will decrease slightly this year. As was the case last year, no antlerless mule deer licenses are available in units 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F. This restriction applies to regular gun, resident and nonresident any-deer bow, gratis and youth licenses.

Hunters are able to draw one license for the deer gun season and one for the muzzleloader season, and purchase an archery license. Like last year, there is no concurrent season and a hunter cannot receive more than one license for the deer gun season.

The number of licenses available for 2013 is 1,150 antlered mule deer, a decrease of 50 mule deer licenses from last year; 1,166 for muzzleloader, down 116 from last year; and 115 restricted youth antlered mule deer, a decrease of five from last year.

Bow hunters should note that both resident and nonresident archery licenses this year are available through electronic purchase only.

In counties where license vendors do not participate in the Game and Fish Department's online license system, bow hunters will have to buy their license from the Game and Fish website, mail in an application to Game and Fish's Bismarck office, or call 1-800-406-6409. In these cases, hunters will have to wait for their tag to arrive in the mail.

Gratis and nonresident landowner applicants will want to take note of a new law passed recently by the Legislature.

House Bill 1131 reduces the number of acres required to qualify from 160 to 150. In addition, gratis applications received on or before the regular deer gun lottery application deadline will be issued an any-legal-deer license. Applications received after the deadline will be issued based on licenses remaining after the lottery -- generally only antlerless licenses remain.

Again, the deadline for applying is June 5.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email at dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com

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