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Deer are down: Decrease in numbers doesn't have residents worried

North Dakota Game and Fish Courtesy Photo North Dakota Game and Fish Department released just under 110,000 deer licenses this season, which is the lowest in the past three seasons. Ninety-nine thousand people still applied in the first lottery for either a whitetail or mule deer tag.

The hunting season hasn't been very kind this year. It's not going to get any easier with deer hunting opening next Thursday.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has released just fewer than 110,000 licenses for this season, which is the lowest number in the past couple season.

"Deer numbers are down," said Bruce Stillings, North Dakota Game and Fish big game supervisor. "There are fewer licenses this year than the last. This is the third consecutive year that we've had a reduced number of licenses."

Despite the low in numbers, 99,000 people still applied for the first lottery, which shows a continued large interest in hunting.

"I think it's going to be a good season," he said. "I think hunters may have to hunt a little bit harder than they've had to in the past. There's certainly good numbers of deer."

Though the numbers didn't decrease across the state, NDGF wildfire biologist said there are many factors that caused the number of deer to decline in certain parts of the state.

The western part of North Dakota is home to whitetail and mule deer. Both types have been affected by the three harsh winters in a row, but whitetails had another environmental factor plague them this season -- epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

"The changes in the deer populations aren't universal across the state," said Bill Jensen NDGF wildfire biologist. "You've experienced an EHD outbreak in the southwestern corner of the state and that's reduced deer numbers."

EHD is spread by the biting midge and due to the vast number of phone calls, the NDGF has allowed people a refund for the licenses before the first day of hunting season.

"The whitetail has been hit by EHD disease," NDGF assistant chief Jeb Williams said. "Nobody is exactly sure to what degree EHD actually hit, but it's been severe enough where we received over 100 different calls from people. It's definitely an issue that different locations are going to be hit harder than others."

It isn't uncommon for the NDGF to allow hunters refunds for their tags in 2000 were allowed a refund. Though hunters are allowed the refund the $20, that isn't the most expensive part of the hunt.

"The fact is that people enjoy deer hunting in North Dakota," Williams said. "They enjoy the opportunity to hunt. We thought it was only fair, when we have this EHD outbreak going on, that it would irresponsible to not give people the opportunity to refund their tag based on the situation."

The mule deer population took a hit, main due to the poor weather conditions the past couple of season.

"A mule deer buck license is still one of the highly touted licenses in the state," Williams said. "Many people wait on average four to five years to hunt a mule deer buck. People are going to find mule deer, but their going to find them in less numbers."

The lack in the number licenses could cause one mule deer to not see another mule deer hunt.

"There's going to less competition out there, there's no doubt about that," Williams said. "With the amount of tags being issued. Will there be fewer hunters in the field based on the number of licenses? Yes there will be."

Could this a sign of things to come? This season could be a glimpse of what hunting could be like for the next couple of seasons.

"People just need to adjust their expectations accordingly," Williams said. "We've been riding the high times here for the last five to six years. We are starting to see the effects of three really tough winters in a row."