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Doug Leier: A refresher course in North Dakota's hunting license lottery and bonus point process

There is no preference in North Dakota's hunting license lottery system. Just a bonus.

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North Dakota's hunting license lottery consists of four separate drawings, one for each choice on the application.
Mike Anderson / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

WEST FARGO – Understanding how the Game and Fish Department’s lottery and bonus point system works can help applicants make better decisions based on their expectations.

First, it’s a matter of understanding the lottery system. Terminology is key when you think of a bonus point versus the misnomer of a preference point. There is no preference. Just a bonus.

The license lottery consists of four separate drawings, one for each choice on the application. First, we hold a drawing for the first unit/first deer choice. When those are issued, we draw for the first unit/second deer choice, then the second unit/first deer choice, and finally the second unit/second deer choice.

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Next is to keep in mind the bonus points and lottery only impact the first choice.

If you fail to draw your first license choice in any given year, you receive a bonus point. You do not have to apply in the same unit, or for the same deer type each year, to qualify. You get an additional bonus point each year you apply and do not receive your first license choice. You maintain your accumulated bonus points if you apply in the first drawing at least once every two years.

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You receive additional chances in the drawing for each bonus point accumulated. For points one through three, you are entered in the drawing two times the number of points you have. So, if you have two points, you would get four additional chances to be drawn, compared to a person who got his or her first choice the previous year. If you’re both competing for the same license, you have five chances; he or she has one.

When you accumulate four or more points, the number of additional chances is determined by cubing your bonus points. So, when you have four points, you will be in the drawing 64 additional times, 125 times if you have five points, and so on. Bonus points are accumulated as long as you do not draw your first license choice and apply in the first drawing at least every other year. You do not receive bonus points in years you do not apply.

Each drawing is still random, but the more bonus points you have, the better your odds. When you receive your first license choice, you lose your bonus points and start over. Bonus points can only be earned, or used, in the first drawing for each species in each year.

2021 deer lottery stats

  • 79,857: Number of people – not including 12,113 gratis applicants – who applied for deer gun lottery licenses, down from 79,999 in 2020.
  • 52.98: Percent of successful applicants, excluding gratis and nonresidents, for deer gun and muzzleloader licenses.
  • 19: Maximum number of bonus points for any applicant (nonresident mule deer buck applicants).
  • 12,636: Applicants with four or more bonus points.
  • 13.59: Percent of applicants with four or more bonus points.
  • 50.83: Percent of applicants with four or more bonus points who applied for a muzzleloader buck license.

Drawing a buck license in 2021 was, like most years, not easy. Randy Meissner, Game and Fish Department licensing manager, said after 11,811 resident gratis licenses and 722 nonresident licenses were subtracted from the overall license allocation, just 31,160 buck licenses were available for the 66,591 hunters who applied for them as their first choice in the lottery.

Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.
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