It’s early in the 2019 North Dakota deer application period, which makes this a good time to explain the deer lottery process. Even though the details haven’t changed much in the past decade, I and many of my colleagues at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department still get a fair number of questions as the deadline approaches.

If you apply in the deer gun license lottery and do not receive your first license choice in any given year, you receive a bonus point that will improve the odds of drawing a first-choice license the next year. It is not necessary to apply in the same unit, or for the same deer type each year, to qualify.

An additional bonus point is gained each year a hunter does not get a first license choice. Maintain the accumulated bonus points as long as you apply in the first drawing at least once every two years.

For points one through three, you are entered in the drawing two times the number of points you have. So, if you have two points you would get four additional chances to be drawn.

When you accumulate four or more points, the number of additional chances is determined by cubing your bonus points. So, when you have four points, you will be in the drawing 64 additional times, 125 times if you have five points, and so on.

Each drawing is still random, but the more bonus points you have, the better the odds. When you receive your first license choice, the bonus points are lost and you start over.

Using deer hunting unit 2B, a large unit near the population centers of Grand Forks and Fargo as an example, here’s how that scenario played out in 2018 for hunters applying for an any antlered deer as a first choice: 972 hunters with zero bonus points applied for an any antlered deer license and 11 were successful in drawing a license (1.1%); 882 hunters with one bonus point, applied and 36 were successful (4%).

On the upper end, 16 people with six points applied, and 11 of those were successful at a rate of 69%. This indicates the system is working, as hunters who have waited the longest to get a license have a much better chance than someone who had a license the previous year.

No amount of points, however, guarantee you’ll draw a preferred deer license. And on the opposite end, if you had that license last year, there still is a chance this year even though odds are stacked against you. It can happen.

Anyone with a deep interest in the odds for drawing a first choice license in last year’s lottery can review a detailed chart on the Game and Fish website at https://gf.nd.gov/licensing/lotteries/summary

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