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OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: ND mule deer numbers rise

Mule deer numbers are up in the Badlands of western North Dakota, the Game and Fish Department reports, based on results from the department's annual spring mule deer survey. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

N.D. mule deer numbers rise

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has completed its annual spring mule deer survey, and results indicate western North Dakota's mule deer population has increased 16 percent from last year.

Biologists counted 3,349 mule deer in 306.3 square miles during this year's survey. Overall mule deer density in the Badlands was 10.9 deer per square mile, which is up from 9.4 deer per square mile in 2016.

According to Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D., mule deer in the Badlands have recovered nicely after the winters of 2009 through 2011, which led to record low fawn production and a population index low of 4.6 mule deer per square mile in 2012.

"The population recovery is due to no antlerless harvest for four years combined with milder winter conditions during 2012-16, which led to good fawn production since 2013," Stillings said. "However, the long-term health of the population will depend on maintaining high quality habitat."

The 2017 survey results show that hunting opportunities can be increased in all Badlands units except 4A, which experienced more severe winter conditions and a slight decline in mule deer numbers, Stillings said.

Game and Fish conducts the spring mule deer survey to assess mule deer abundance in the Badlands. It is conducted after the snow has melted and before the trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation of deer. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

NDGF to clean paddlefish this year

North Dakota's paddlefish snagging season opens Monday, and the Game and Fish Department for this year will provide a free cleaning service for snaggers who harvest a paddlefish.

The cleaning service will operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on harvest days out of North Star Caviar's station at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

North Star Caviar, which in previous years would clean all legally taken paddlefish in exchange for the eggs from the females, is not operating its station this year.

A shuttle will not be available to transport fish, so snaggers who want their paddlefish cleaned will have to haul it to the cleaning station. Snaggers who clean their own fish are responsible for properly disposing the carcass.

North Dakota's paddlefish snagging season opens May 1 and is scheduled to continue through May.

Depending on the overall harvest, an early in-season closure may occur with a 24-hour notice issued by the state Game and Fish Department. Snag-and-release of all paddlefish is required on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Mandatory harvest of all snagged paddlefish is required on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

By offering the cleaning station, Game and Fish will be able collect important biological information on paddlefish as well as monitor the ongoing harvest.

All paddlefish snagged and tagged must be removed from the river by 9 p.m. of each snagging day.

Legal snagging hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. All paddlefish snaggers must possess a paddlefish tag in addition to a valid fishing license. Paddlefish tags cost $10 for residents and $25.50 for nonresidents.

Snaggers are limited to one tag per year. For more information, including a listing of vendors selling paddlefish tags, check out the Game and Fish website at

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

Beltrami forest trail meeting set

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in recreational trail systems and motorized recreation in Beltrami Island State Forest to attend a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. June 28 in Warroad, Minn., to review a set of proposals that include changes to trail systems in the state forest.

The meeting will be held at the DNR Forestry Office, 804 Cherne Drive N.W., Warroad, with a presentation at 6:30 p.m., followed by time for questions and answers, map review and comments.

Draft proposals, which reflect feedback gathered during an open house last June, include:

• Over 25 miles of new designated motorized routes .

• Designating a 10-plus-mile loop trail.

• Opening some hunter-walking trail segments to motorized use

Beltrami forest is classified as "managed" with respect to motor vehicle use, which means forest roads and routes are open to motor vehicles unless posted closed. The DNR does not propose changing the "managed" classification.

Anyone unable to attend the June 28 meeting can review the project documents online on the trail revision project page and submit written comments through July 28.

The DNR will use comments received at the meeting and during the public input period to develop a final recommendation that will be submitted to the DNR commissioner for approval. Changes to state forest trail designations must be made by commissioner's order and published in the State Register.

More info:

-- Minnesota DNR

DNR seeks sharptail changes

Sharp-tailed grouse hunting in east-central Minnesota would begin about a month later under a new DNR proposal.

"We would limit early season fall hunting in an area already open to sharp-tailed grouse hunting where habitat changes have significantly reduced their numbers," said Dave Olfelt, DNR northeast region manager in Grand Rapids, Minn. "The change aims to boost survival of young-of-the-year birds and adult hens with broods, which could provide a benefit to the overall population."

Fall sharp-tailed grouse hunting is allowed in the northern third of the state. If approved for this year, the sharp-tailed grouse season in a part of east-central Minnesota and east of a line from Floodwood, Minn., to the northern border would be open from Oct. 14 through Nov. 30.

In the rest of the open hunting zone, including northwest Minnesota, the season would run from Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 as it has in the past.

People who want to provide input on the proposal can attend meetings in early May and give input through June 1 at or by postal mail.

Public meetings with staff who can provide additional information are planned for:

• May 3: 6 to 8:30 p.m., DNR headquarters, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul.

• May 9: 7 to 9 p.m., Cloquet High School, 1000 18th St., Cloquet.

Sharp-tailed grouse are somewhat larger than ruffed grouse and live in open grassy or brushy areas. The once-thriving population has declined sharply in the last 50 years due to loss of suitable habitat.

During spring mating, the males try to attract females by making coos and clucks, stomping their feet and clicking their tail feathers in a courtship dance at specific locations called leks.

The DNR maintains blinds that are available to the public in areas where the public can watch sharp-tailed grouse courtship. More information on sharp-tailed grouse viewing blinds is available at

-- Minnesota DNR

Did you know?

• The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program is accepting registrations for the annual summer workshop June 23-25 at the North Dakota 4-H Camp in Washburn, N.D.. Enrollment is limited to participants age 18 or older. Workshop fees of $150 cover instruction, program materials, use of equipment, all meals and lodging. Participants can choose from a number of different activities, including archery, firearms, fishing, hunting, paddling sports, wildlife and plants, cooking and outdoor knowledge. Registration deadline is May 17. Info: Brian Schaffer, (701) 328-6312 or email

• More than 600 public fishing access sites in North Dakota now are available through Google Maps. The smartphone app allows allows users to access the sites using GPS driving directions. More info:

• North Dakota is receiving a $1 million grant through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for the Chase Lake Project in southeast-central North Dakota's Missouri Coteau region. The funding will help conserve 27,524 acres of wetlands and associated waterfowl habitat. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the funding this past week as part of $17.8 million in grants awarded nationally for wetland habitat projects. The grants will be matched by nearly $40 million in partner funds.

-- compiled by Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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