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Uncertain success: ND deer hunters set out for season with fewest licenses since 1983

North Dakota Game and Fish Photo North Dakota deer licenses are the lowest since 1983, but North Dakota Game and Fish assistant wildlife chief Jeb Williams said hunters should still have an enjoyable time in the field.

In North Dakota, deer licenses, deer numbers and areas to hunt are all down.

Yet, the optimism for a successful season still remains high.

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The number of deer licenses issued by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is at its lowest since 1983, but that might not be a bad idea. The Game and Fish Dept. released 59,500 licenses, which is a 5,800 decrease from last season.

The Game and Fish Dept. are always looking to reach around a 70 percent success rate with hunters in the field. That level of success wouldn’t be possible if every hunter had a license.

“We always want to be around that 70 to 75 percent success rate and that’s what we strive for,” said Jeb Williams, Game and Fish assistant wildlife chief. “Whether we get there this year, your guess is as good as mine. The people that have a license out there are going to have an opportunity and an enjoyable experience. There aren’t a lot of other hunters out there. We are hoping that the reduction in deer licenses increases hunter’s success, while also reducing the population helps rebound the population back to where we’d like to see it go.”

The deer rifle season opener begins at 11 a.m. on Friday and concludes on Jan. 5. Williams said hunters in North Dakota should continue to maintain a positive mindset heading out into the field.

One bright spot before deer season begins is the low number affected by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease and Chronic Wasting Disease. The EHD numbers compared to a couple years ago are night and day. Mother Nature is to thank for an early frost killing the biting midge, which spreads EHD. As for CWD, it wasn’t found in any specimens collected last year.

“In 2011, we had a really significant EHD die off,” Williams said. “That year we had a very mild fall up even until the beginning part of November. We didn’t really have a real hard freeze. This year we were definitely befitted from a more normal weather pattern. We had a fair amount of reports early on, but the report tapered off as September and October came about, because we did have some pretty cold temperatures.”

After a tough couple pheasant and deer seasons, the main question on most hunters minds — is this going to become the norm? With decline numbers in Conservation Reserve Program, tough winters and more hunters, it’s a possibility.

“We have some changes on the landscape,” Williams said. “We’ve been talking really steady about the declining acres of the Conservation Reserve Program. That’s a big chunk of habitat that’s taken off the landscape that supported a lot of wildlife for a number of years. As we continue to see that trend, people are going to have to adjust their expectations out there.”