The Mule Deer Foundation’s Teddy Roosevelt Chapter is hosting its sixth annual banquet at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center at 5 p.m. Friday. 

The event is expected to draw around 200 people from the area, said Marshall Johnson, the foundation’s regional director.

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Even with the downturn in the oil business, Johnson said, “we have a lot of locals that come to our event.”

The foundation’s purpose is to ensure the conservation of mule deer, black-tailed deer and their habitat. The national organization is based in Salt Lake City and has 145 chapters across the nation with seven chapters in North Dakota.

Southwest North Dakota is represented by the Teddy Roosevelt Chapter and Arnold Karsky is the chapter chairman. He has been involved in the program for five years. He’s also the statewide youth coordinator.

“I’ve always try get my kids out in the outdoors and I was looking for an organization when we moved out here five years ago,” he said.

Karsky has been volunteering with the program ever since. Volunteers are vital in conserving the land and habitat of the mule deer, Johnson said.

“Basically what our volunteers do is raise money to put money back on the ground to benefit the habitat for mule deer,” Johnson said. “Anything that we pretty much do for mule deer habitat is also going to positively impact other species as well.”

The Mule Deer Foundation sponsors more than 27,000 acres of Private Land Open to Sportsman (PLOTS) to protect the integrity of the land for mule deer, which in turns helps the habitat for other indigenous animals.

“We’re looking at doubling that this year,” Johnson said of the organization’s plan to grow the amount of PLOTS land.

PLOTS is land that is open to the public for hunting within the legal hunting season.

The North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund awarded the foundation a $470,000 grant for that effort.

“With that, we are specifically with private landowners that are either enrolled in the PLOTS program or are looking to enroll in the PLOTS program,” Johnson said.

The Mule Deer Foundation is looking to match 25 percent of that contribution through banquets, raffles and reaching out to businesses, including the oil businesses found in the Bakken.

“We reach out to the individual companies and ask if they would like to be a conservation partner,” Johnson said.

The banquet is one of the organizations fundraisers to try to obtain that goal.

“It’s an opportunity to help us help the mule deer,” said Johnson.

And, Johnson noted, the community gets behind that effort to give their children and grandchildren the ability to enjoy the mule deer like they are able to.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Not only are you helping the mule deer, but it’s an opportunity for you to win all kinds of stuff.”

The event will have food provided by Mulligan’s, a live auction, silent auction, raffles and vacation packages. People could walk away with a special edition Henry .44 magnum Oilman’s Edition and vacations to Mexico or Hawaii. There will also be a four-person, 10-day hunting trip to South Africa, as well as a four-person fishing trip to Alaska.

Karsky said he’s most excited about the youth that will be in attendance.

“Every kid that shows up gets the chance to win a Crickett, which is basically a single-shot .22-(caliber rifle) and we do one for a girl’s color and one for a boy’s color.”

Karsky has been traveling the western side of the state increasing children’s awareness of firearms by setting up pellet shooting tents at events where they teach younger children gun safety in a fun and fast situation. Karsky hopes to start including archery.

He said it’s important to get kids excited about conservation or all of their work will have been in vain. And thanks to that conservation, Johnson said western North Dakota - after a deep decrease in mule deer population - is starting to see the population coming back strong.

The population of the North Dakota mule deer has struggled over the past five years due to the climate, loss of habitat and predation, and because of that there have been increased efforts in maintaining the population.

“We had about three winters in a row that just decimated the wildlife in western North Dakota, and the North Dakota mule deer got hit extremely hard,” Johnson said. “Every year we have been seeing a gain of about 23 to 25 percent annually.”

Though several people are signed up for the event, Karsky said there’s still room for people to show up at the door.

“The worst-case scenario would be that we start running out of food,” he said.