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Bill Jensen, big game management biologist for North Dakota Game and Fish Department, has some advice for hunters heading out for the deer opener.

Be ready to walk.

The department issued 49,000 licenses for this season. While that’s 5,725 more than last year, it’s a far cry from the more than 100,000 that were issued annually from 2001 to 2011.

“There are going to be fewer people walking and moving deer around,” Jensen said. “So, if you don’t see deer, it’s not that they are not there. You are going to have to get out and walk. Some people try and road hunt. That can be effective, but, when you have fewer hunters on the landscape, it doesn’t work so well.”

Deer gun season begins Friday at noon and runs until Nov. 20. Bow season began in September and runs through January.

Jeremy Doan, one of the owners of Rolling Plains Adventures near Sterling, concurs with Jensen’s assessment of what it will take to get a deer this year. With about half of the corn crop still standing, along with high grass from a rainy summer, deer have plenty of places to hide, Doan said.

“If they’re not out walking around, they’re not going to be successful,” he said. “Walking is what’s going to give you a harvest. Put in the time, and you’ll be successful.”

As hunters head into the fields, Jensen said it’s always an important reminder for hunters to know what their targets are and what lies beyond the targets.

“We’ve been lucky in North Dakota that we have had few deer hunting accidents in recent years, but everyone needs to remain vigilant,” he said.

The forecast for this weekend calls for good walking conditions, but probably not ideal hunting conditions, said Patrick Ayd, National Weather Service meteorologist.

Temperatures Friday, Saturday and Sunday are expected to be in the upper 50s to low 60s — “well above normal and probably the opposite of what hunters want,” he said. No precipitation is expected.

Ayd said mild conditions will settle in for at least the first week of hunting season but could continue beyond that. The weather service has no indication at this point of a change in weather pattern for the coming weeks.

The bad part of those warmer temperatures is that deer tend to be less active, Doan said.

“My forecast is it’s going to be slow the first week, then start picking up throughout the rifle season,” he said.

Thanks to mild winters the past few years, Jensen expects hunters who are willing to put in the time to find success. While deer populations haven’t quite recovered from difficult winters past, he said there should be plenty of opportunities

“Generally, deer numbers are up throughout the state,” he said.

But Jensen expects this winter to be a good test of the new landscape of North Dakota.

“I’m anticipating a snowier and colder winter than last year,” he said. “And, in one respect, that’s good, because there are better conditions for aerial surveys. On the other hand, it creates harder conditions for wildlife, particularly where there is reduced cover.”

As the number of acres across the state enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program have gone down, the amount of cover available may have gone away, too, Jensen said. In the past few relatively mild winters, it likely didn’t play much of a role. Past aerial surveys in snowy winters showed deer bedded down in places with enough standing vegetation to block wind from their bodies, he said.

“That’s probably going to be more of an issue now, in areas particularly where we’ve lost a lot of CRP,” Jensen said.

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Reach Jenny Schlecht at 701-595-0425 or jenny.schlecht@bismarcktribune.com.

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