For as long as I can remember, party hunting has never been legal in North g Dakota. Which means 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 a daily limit.

This issue, particularly as it relates to deer, 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, North Dakota Game and Fish officials are routinely asked why North Dakota doesn’t allow party hunting.

In states, such as North Dakota, where a limited and specific number of deer licenses are issued by unit, party hunting could, in the long run, reduce a person’s chances for obtaining high-demand licenses, such as for whitetail and mule deer bucks.

Under one scenario party hunting could lead to a higher hunter success rate, which might influence Game and Fish to reduce the overall number of licenses, especially buck licenses, to counter that increased hunter success. This would mean fewer hunters would get buck licenses.

Under another scenario, 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), 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.

Either scenario would eventually increase the level of dissatisfaction over license availability, which is already a common concern among hunters.

Let’s not forget that not everyone party hunts. 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 counterproductive to keeping young hunters interested.

One of the worst possible feelings for a young hunter would be 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 in its approach to party hunting. Some nearby states have limitations on party hunting and fishing, and federal regulations prevent any state from allowing party hunting for migratory birds.

Hunters who have filled out in North Dakota can continue beating the brush to help scare up deer or pheasants, so the day doesn’t have to end when you’ve filled your tag or limit.

Doug Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

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