N.D. deer season preview: Fewer permits should boost success

When it comes to deer season, North Dakota hunters have high expectations, and when success rates dip below 65 percent, wildlife managers tend to hear about it.

When it comes to deer season, North Dakota hunters have high expectations, and when success rates dip below 65 percent, wildlife managers tend to hear about it.

Last year, North Dakota deer hunters tallied a success rate of 59 percent, and you guessed it: Managers from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department heard about it.

As a result, Game and Fish this year offered 116,775 licenses statewide, a reduction of 20 percent from the 144,400 licenses available last year. According to Roger Johnson, big game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, the reduction is the result of a couple of bad winters and a deer population that now is closer to management goals.

North Dakota's deer gun season opens at noon Friday.

The department, which offers a different number of tags in each of its hunting units, made some of the biggest reductions in northeastern North Dakota. Unit 2C, for example, an area west of Grand Forks north of U.S. Highway 2, had a 30 percent reduction; 2B on the south side of Highway 2 had 16 percent fewer tags.


"In our area, we're probably down a little more than the state average of 20 percent," Johnson said. "We expect to have more winter than a lot of other areas of the state."

But even the Badlands saw a reduction in permits, Johnson said.

"They usually don't get affected very much by winter, but they did last winter," he said.

Tags galore

Johnson said last year's decline in hunter success needs to be taken in context because hunters in many areas were able to buy so many leftover bonus tags. Unit 2C had nearly 1,000 leftover doe tags last year; this year, all of the tags in 2C are gone.

As of Friday morning, only 2,300 tags remained statewide -- in units 2D, 3E1, 3F1, 3F2 and 4F.

"It's not like when you had only one deer tag, and nobody gets any deer," Johnson said. "Last year was kind of mixed; some people got deer and some of them didn't."

One unknown after last season, Johnson said, was whether the deer had moved to areas such as posted private land that wasn't widely accessible to hunters. But winter aerial surveys confirmed deer numbers were down, so Game and Fish opted to offer fewer permits this year.


"We certainly focused on reducing the doe permits to help the herd come back, but we reduced some of the buck permits, too," Johnson said.

Johnson said hunters got used to the high deer numbers that characterized the middle part of the decade. The phenomenon, he said, wasn't unique to North Dakota. Minnesota, for example, set a record in 2003, when hunters shot more than 290,000 deer.

"This was a whole upper Midwest trend in deer numbers," Johnson said of the Bambi boom.

Better production

Anecdotally, Johnson said it seems as if fawn production this year was better than the past couple of years.

"At least for us, winter wasn't quite as long," Johnson said. "We got snow, but not as long as 2009, and I think that helped. I'm optimistic there's going to be a pretty good fawn crop, anyway."

Also working in hunters' favor is the harvest of row crops, which is proceeding ahead of last year's pace. As of Oct. 23, 55 percent of North Dakota's corn crop was harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported, compared with only 2 percent at the same time in 2009. That means deer won't have the vast refuges of standing corn that have plagued hunters the past two seasons.

"The past two-three years were so wet corn and sunflowers didn't come off all winter," Johnson said.


Bottom line: There's good potential North Dakota hunters again will rack up the level of success they've come to expect -- a lofty standard that would be difficult to comprehend in many states, including Minnesota, where hunters last year had 32.1 percent success during the firearms deer season.

"Based on the number of permits we have out there, I expect a good harvest," Johnson said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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