Last year, North Dakota hunters submitted a record number of applications for moose, elk and bighorn sheep licenses.
That was a bit of a curiosity because 2018 was the first year Game and Fish had made the application process all electronic for moose, elk and sheep, meaning paper applications were not used. There was some anticipation that license applications might go down a bit because of that, but apparently, these once-in-a-lifetime licenses are more popular than ever.
Which, of course, generally reduces the odds of drawing one in the lottery, but this year, that might be offset by significantly more licenses available for elk and moose than last year.
Here's some more details for this year:
• A total of 478 elk licenses are available to hunters this fall, an increase of 70 from last year and the most since 2011.
• A record 479 moose licenses are available in 2019, an increase of 145 from last year. Most of the increase is antlerless licenses in northwestern North Dakota because of an increasing moose population in that area.
• A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2019. The status of the bighorn sheep season will be determined Sept. 1, after summer population surveys are completed.
• Bighorn sheep applicants must apply for a license at the same time as moose and elk. Once total licenses are determined for each unit in late summer, the bighorn lottery will then be held, and successful applicants will be contacted to select a hunting unit.
Year in and year out, I field many calls and emails from prospective hunters about how they might improve their odds, such as applying for a cow license vs. a bull or "any" license in a particular unit.
That's a good question, as last year for both "any elk" and "any moose" licenses, which allow harvest of either a bull or cow/calf, odds were less than 1 in 100. For cow or antlerless elk, however, the overall success rate was about 41 percent, and for cow moose, just about 21 percent.
The breakdown of number of applicants, licenses available and odds of drawing a license for each elk and moose unit and license type is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.
Regardless of the odds, I try to make sure that interested hunters are aware of the time and resources that usually are necessary to have a successful hunt.
Many hunters tend to equate these special big game hunts with deer hunting because that's what they know. With the exception of some landowners who live within certain moose and elk units, these licenses are once-in-a-lifetime. We don't get to go the first time, learn on the go, then come back much better prepared the next time we get the same license.
My point in all of this is to help potential applicants understand they need to be willing to prepare for a long and difficult hunt.
The deadline for applying is March 27.