The North Dakota legislature established the general game license in 1967, and, ever since then, deer hunters have needed one, in addition to a deer tag, before they could legally hunt deer with rifle or bow.

Eventually, the general game license was combined with the habitat stamp, so today it’s called the general game and habitat license, and you need one to hunt any game species, except furbearers, in North Dakota unless you are a landowner hunting only on your own land.

That also applies to the other licenses issued by lottery, such as moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, turkey and swan.

Because this has been such a longstanding requirement, it was a bit surprising to State Game and Fish Department administrators last fall when a deep look into licensing data several days into deer gun season revealed that a significant number of hunters with deer tags had not purchased that general game license.

Those 5,000 deer license holders probably included a number who’d decided they weren’t going to hunt at all so they didn’t buy the general game license, some who were likely purposely trying to skirt the law and still others who simply forgot to buy the general game license or perhaps weren’t aware of the requirement.

Such a complete look into the licensing data was not possible until a couple of years ago when Game and Fish phased out paper licensing books and required electronic licensing only. That made it pretty simple to match deer licenses to general game licenses.

With that information at hand, Game and Fish administrators decided to minimize the possibility of deer hunting without the proper licenses, by tying distribution of lottery tags directly to whether the tag recipient had a general game license.

This process wasn’t really anything new, as for several years, bowhunters have had to have their general game license purchased before they were issued their archery tag.

So starting with spring turkey licenses this year, Game and Fish has been holding back tags until the hunter had purchased a general game license, either as part of a combination license, or individually.

Like most things new, it’s a process that has generated a lot of questions and comments over the past few weeks since Game and Fish started printing and mailing deer tags. And still, as of Sept. 1, more than 10,000 North Dakota deer gun season hunters, and about 2,000 youth deer license holders, had not received their tag because they hadn’t yet secured the general game license they need to hunt deer.

Perhaps more interesting is that a handful of hunters who drew once-in-a-lifetime moose or elk licenses had still not received their tag in the mail because they did not have the required general game license.

Game and Fish has sent periodic emails or text messages directly to big game license holders to remind them of the general game license requirement, and that will continue throughout the fall.

If you or someone you know hasn’t received your deer tag yet, make sure you’ve got your general game license.

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