When Monday rolls around and online applications for the 2014 deer gun season become available, hunters will have 11,500 fewer chances to draw into a tag than a year ago.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department on Tuesday set this fall’s deer season to open Nov. 7, and will offer a total of 48,000 licenses, the lowest total since 1980.
Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the Game and Fish Department, said despite reducing the number of gun licenses in each of the past five years, deer populations are still below desired levels in all but three hunting units — 3F1, 3F2 and 4F being the exceptions.
“Harvest and survey data indicate deer numbers are still declining, especially in the eastern part of the state,” Kreil said.
Statewide, hunter success in 2013 was 55 percent, which is lower than in 2012 (63 percent), and well below the department’s goal of 70 percent.
This past winter the Game and Fish Department hosted eight regional deer management meetings to provide information and gather comments from the public on the shrinking deer population.
Hunters are keenly aware of the situation, Kreil said.
To put things into perspective, in 2006-07 there 100,000 more deer licenses available than will be offered this fall.
“I don’t think it (fewer licenses) will come as a surprise to anyone and I think we will see widespread support from the deer hunting community,” he said.
One of the messages heard at the winter meetings was that hunters want the Game and Fish Department to take the necessary steps to rebuild the deer herd.
From a biological standpoint, one of the ways to do that is to reduce the number of doe licenses. That’s been done, Kreil said.
For this season, there will be 6,500 fewer any-antlerless licenses and 1,000 fewer whitetail doe licenses issued.
In addition, Kreil said, there will be 3,900 fewer buck tags up for grabs.
Out west, the number of mule deer buck licenses in the Badlands was increased slightly but as was the case the past two years, no mule deer doe licenses are available in Units 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F. This restriction applies to regular gun, resident and nonresident any-deer bow, gratis and youth licenses.
Hunters are able to draw one license for the deer gun season and one for the muzzleloader season and purchase an archery license. There is no concurrent season, and a hunter cannot receive more than one license for the deer gun season.
The number of licenses available for 2014 includes 1,350 for antlered mule deer, an increase of 200 from last year; 932 for muzzleloader, down 270 from last year; and 134 restricted youth antlered mule deer, an increase of 19 from last year
A new state law requires residents age 18 or older to prove residency on the application by submitting a valid North Dakota driver’s license number or a North Dakota nondriver photo identification number. Applications will not be processed without this information.
Paper applications will be at vendors throughout the state by mid-May and the deadline to apply is June 4.
Kreil said high quality deer habitat continues to be lost, which will limit the potential for population recovery.
Two million acres of Conservation Reserve Program land has gone back into production, more than 200,000 acres of grasslands have been tilled and planted and tree rows and wetlands are disappearing from the landscape in favor of crop land.
Kreil said while milder winters and better fawn production would help deer numbers rebound, it comes down to habitat.
He said the continued loss of habitat at the present rate will make it impossible to offer hunters the opportunities that have been commonplace over the past two decades.