Dropped harvestA snowstorm hitting the western half of North Dakota on the eve of opening day of the deer gun hunting season may have played a role in the lower success numbers in 2008, officials say, though it’s hard to exactly lock down the cause.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
A snowstorm hitting the western half of North Dakota on the eve of opening day of the deer gun hunting season may have played a role in the lower success numbers in 2008, officials say, though it’s hard to exactly lock down the cause.
It could have been the weather; it could have been un-harvested crops in the eastern half of the state, but despite the cause, numbers were down.
North Dakota deer hunters harvested 91,000 deer in 2008 compared to 98,000 in 2007, a drop of 7 percent.
Bill Jensen, big game biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said it’s nearly impossible to lock down an exact cause because there are several throughout the state and each region had its own factors.
“It’s hard to say because you’re trying to reconstruct what happened after the fact,” Jensen said. “I think in part a lot of them are true, but there’s no universal explanation across the state.”
A little over 149,000 gun licenses were issued last year and more than 96 percent actually reached hunter’s hands. Overall, hunter success was 70 percent.
Hunter success for antlered white-tailed deer was 79 percent, and antlerless whitetail was 77 percent. Mule deer buck success was 72 percent, while mule deer doe hunters had a success rate of 83 percent. Hunters with any-antlered licenses had a success rate of 68 percent, while any-antlerless license holders had a success rate of 70 percent.
Jensen said the area where hunters likely had the most difficulty filling their tags was the southeastern quarter of the state.
“There was an abnormally high amount of corn that didn’t get harvested,” Jensen said. “Really, really wet conditions, probably 90 percent of it was still in the fields.”
That complicated things for hunters because un-harvested cropland is unable to be hunted due to a North Dakota law prohibiting it.
Jensen said deer had little reason to leave the fields due to an abundance of feed.
Closer to home, an early season blizzard delayed some hunters on opening day, and Jensen said he thinks a lot of them didn’t come back for a second weekend.
“If they went out opening weekend and it took them sometime to get their first deer, they might not have come out again to fill other tags,” Jensen said. “Whereas in past years, they would have made a couple of trips.”
The snow didn’t let up over the next couple of months and the department was able to conduct a statewide aerial deer survey for the first time in over a decade.
The surveys showed stable to increasing deer numbers in the north central, southwestern and southeastern, with the lone exception being Unit 2G1. Results in the northeast were mixed, with deer numbers in Unit 2C stable to decreasing, 2D stable to increasing and 2E declining.
Jensen said there are some concerns about over-population due to a lower harvest, but the severe winter most likely made up for where the hunters came up short.
“Maybe in some areas, in other areas I think nature took its course and the grim reaper did the harvest,” Jensen said, adding the areas north of Bismarck seems to have been hit the hardest by the severe winter weather.
“We’re aware of areas where the deer didn’t do so well and we’re going to adjust our license numbers accordingly.”
Deer license numbers are determined by evaluating hunter harvest and deer survey data, deer-vehicle collision reports, depredation reports, and comments from the public, landowners and department field staff.
Jensen said it’s likely not as many licenses will be issued when the Game and Fish sends the big-game proclamation to the Governor at the end of April.
“Overall probably yes,” Jensen said. “Where that sorts out by unit is yet to be determined.”