A fall survey indicates another good year of mule deer fawn production in the western North Dakota Badlands.
The aerial survey conducted by the state Game and Fish Department is more good news for a mule deer population that has continued to rebound since a string of three straight harsh winters ending in 2011 that led to record-low fawn production.
Biologists counted 2,218 mule deer during the October survey, close to last year’s count of 2,446. The ratios of 41 bucks per 100 does and 84 fawns per 100 does were similar to last year.
“Overall, there was good fawn production and stable buck-to-doe ratios at or near their long-term averages,” said Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor for Game and Fish.
Hunting of mule deer females was banned four straight seasons beginning in 2012, to help the population recover following the tough winters. Game and Fish in 2016 lifted the restriction in five of eight hunting units, and last year doe hunting was allowed in all but one unit, 4A in the Watford City area. That restriction was lifted for this year's season, with 100 mule deer doe licenses made available in the unit.
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The annual fall survey covers 24 study areas and 306 square miles. Biologists also survey the same areas in the spring of each year to determine deer abundance.
“Mule deer observations continue to look good in additional areas other than that,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said, adding that this fall's numbers are encouraging even though they don’t represent an increase from last year.
“Absolutely, stable is good news,” he said. “We’re happy with it.”
North Dakota’s gun season for mule deer and white-tailed deer opens at noon Friday and runs through Nov. 24. The National Weather Service forecast calls for high temperatures Friday in the 30s and 40s, with no precipitation. There is a chance of rain and snow over the weekend, with highs Sunday only in the midteens to lower 20s.