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Deer management showing success

Ask a hunter about the deer population in southeastern North Dakota and he might tell you his group never worked so hard to find a whitetail doe as last fall.


Ask a hunter about the deer population in southeastern North Dakota and he might tell you his group never worked so hard to find a whitetail doe as last fall.

A body shop owner in the central part of the state might relate that the number of vehicles brought in for fixing following a collision with a deer has not declined at all.

A farmer in Divide County might remember just a couple of years ago when excessive snow and cold forced deer into the city limits of some rural communities.

At the other end of those conversations are wildlife managers, game wardens and biologists who absorb as much anecdotal information as they can, blend it with recent aerial survey data and last year's harvest statistics, and come up with a recommendation for the number of deer licenses for the fall hunting season.

In 2006, for the first time in several years, the annual deer license allocation is lower than the previous year. While the decrease is only 2,100 licenses, it is an indication that the state's deer population, particularly whitetails, is beginning to turn the corner, back down toward Department management objectives.


While license numbers are down slightly from the record high of 145,600 made available in 2005, some units will still have more licenses available than last year. This is possible because of the Game and Fish Department's long-time strategy of managing deer populations in defined units.

This unit system allows for adjustments on local levels, taking into account things like significantly lower hunter success, or higher survey counts. Hunters are added to units with high deer numbers, and subtracted from units where deer numbers are lower.

It's micromanagement in a way that benefits hunters, landowners and citizens within those unit boundaries, while at the same time promoting a healthy, stable deer population.

Understand, however, that even when deer numbers fall to near or even well below Department management levels, deer depredation on livestock feed supplies will not disappear, and deer-vehicle collisions will still take place. Conversely, in units with high deer populations well above Game and Fish objectives, some hunters will still be unsuccessful.

Here's an example of how it works in practice. Last fall, based on the Department's annual survey, whitetail doe hunters in the Richland County area of southeastern North Dakota had markedly reduced hunter success. In addition, the number of days afield for successful hunters was much higher than for successful doe hunters in other parts of the state.

Those indicators, along with biological surveys, provided strong evidence that efforts over several years to reduce the deer population in that area were working.

This year, antlerless whitetail license numbers in unit 2A were reduced. Just as it took several years of increased hunting pressure to lower the deer population, a return to a higher deer population and better hunter success won't occur overnight.

When the topic of deer hunting and management are on the table, hunters, citizens and biologists alike will always have ideas and new methods for adjusting the current system. Small tweaks such as removing split seasons, which occurred this year, can and will be implemented.


But a major overhaul is not likely. While the current system isn't designed to manage deer herds on individual farms or even township sized areas, it is responsive to deer population swings.

One of the keys to maintaining the unit management system is accurate and timely reporting from hunters who receive surveys after each hunting season. Wildlife managers use this valuable data to assess past seasons and adjust future license numbers.

While the total is down overall this year, the reduction doesn't necessarily mean anyone will have to miss out on deer hunting. Even in unit 2A, which has 25 percent fewer whitetail doe licenses, everyone who applies for a doe license should still get one. It's just that there won't be as many licenses remaining after the first lottery drawing.

The same goes for the rest of the state. North Dakota still has a near-record number of licenses available, and while you can't always get a preferred license in a preferred unit, everyone who wants to can participate. It hasn't always been that way.

The application deadline for North Dakota's deer license lottery is June 7. Prospective hunters can apply online at the Game and Fish Department's Web site at gf.nd.gov; pick up an application at license vendors throughout the state; or apply by phone at (800) 406-6409.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@state.nd.us

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