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Debate over party hunting continues

Party hunting is not legal in North Dakota. And I'm glad. Legally, each individual hunter must take only his or her own daily limit, or fill his or her own deer tag.

Party hunting is not legal in North Dakota. And I'm glad. Legally, each individual hunter must take only his or her own daily limit, or fill his or her own deer tag.

The same concept also applies to fishing. There is no legal distinction between shooting someone else's deer, and catching an extra fish to help your buddy fill out. Once a hunter or angler has reached the limit, he or she cannot legally shoot or catch anything that helps a partner reach their daily limit.

This issue, particularly as it relates to deer, still generates periodic interest, but the state legislature has voted down every recent opportunity to allow party hunting.

At advisory board meetings and other public forums, Game and Fish officials are routinely asked why North Dakota doesn't allow party hunting.

A couple questions always rise to the surface.


- With North Dakota's high deer population, wouldn't party hunting help increase overall success so more tags are filled?

- Many groups have always party-hunted for deer. Allowing it would just legalize something that has been going on for years. Why worry about something that is difficult to enforce anyway?

To answer the first question, in states like North Dakota where a limited and specific number of deer licenses are issued by unit, legalized party hunting would in the long run reduce a person's chances for obtaining coveted licenses, such as those for whitetail bucks, mule deer bucks, or even muzzle-loader bucks.

The number of buck licenses in any unit is limited. If party hunting were allowed, then a person could find, say, three other people who are not that interested in buck hunting (the spouse, kids, neighbors), or even deer hunting, but would go along anyway. Then the one real deer hunter could legally shoot four bucks. The result could be that three serious and dedicated hunters would go without a buck license that year.

Such a situation would eventually increase the level of dissatisfaction over not being able to get a buck license on a more frequent basis, which is already a common complaint.

If party hunting were allowed in North Dakota, it would likely increase hunter success rates. Because Game and Fish manages deer on a unit basis, and issues specific licenses, the agency might have to reduce the overall number of licenses, especially buck licenses, to counter increased hunter success. This would mean fewer hunters would get buck licenses.

For example, assuming a 10 percent increase in hunter success, Game and Fish would have to decrease the number of buck licenses by 12.5 percent. This would have meant about 5,900 fewer buck licenses issued in 2005.

To address the second point, not everyone party hunts, or wants to. While the rule may be difficult to enforce, most people are honest and stay within the law. Plus, many hunters understand that group limits associated with party hunting are counter-productive to keeping young hunters interested.


One of the worst possible feelings for a young hunter is having to put his or her tag on a deer someone else shot. The party philosophy, whether it's deer, birds or fish, and whether it's legal or not, reduces opportunity for beginning hunters or anglers because they are usually not the most skilled.

Instead, the group should make it a priority to give young hunters and anglers as many chances as possible, and if they don't get a limit ... then they don't get a limit.

North Dakota isn't alone its approach to party hunting. Neither South Dakota nor Montana allow party hunting or fishing for any species. While it's likely that debate about legalized party hunting will continue, here's hoping that North Dakota's strong tradition continues just the way it is.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at(701) 281-1220 or at dleier@state.nd.us

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