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Survey sheds light on N.D. deer management

North Dakota deer hunters generally are satisfied with deer management in the state despite lower populations and reduced hunting opportunities, results from a "human dimensions" survey of deer hunters show.

Jay Boulanger
Jay Boulanger

North Dakota deer hunters generally are satisfied with deer management in the state despite lower populations and reduced hunting opportunities, results from a "human dimensions" survey of deer hunters show.

Bill Jensen, big game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said a sample of four hunter groups-bowhunters, gratis license holders, regular gun hunters and muzzleloader hunters-all gave the department's deer management a rating of 6 or better on a scale of 1 to 10.

Bowhunters responding to the survey rated deer management at 6.5, gratis license holders gave the department a score of 6.3, and gun and muzzleloader hunters scored the department's deer management at 6.2 and 6.1, respectively, Jensen said.

"Generally, all of the hunters were pretty satisfied, overall, with deer management in the state," Jensen said.

About the survey

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As part of the human dimensions survey, the first of its kind among North Dakota hunters, a random sample of 1,000 hunters in each of the four groups received a questionnaire last spring asking for their views on deer management in the state. More than 400 hunters in each group responded, for a total of 1,853 respondents.

A random sample of 50 nonresponders from each group also was contacted to see if their views would skew the results, Jensen said.

"It varied by a few percentage points up and down, but we couldn't see any bias there," he said.

The Social Science Research Institute at UND helped with the mechanics of the survey, and UND graduate student Kristen Black oversaw the study and analyzed the results as part of her master's thesis. Jay Boulanger, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and human dimensions at UND, helped develop the questions and provided additional guidance.

Historically, North Dakota hunting regulations and policy have been guided, in part, by a series of statewide public meetings Game and Fish conducts twice a year. While beneficial, the meetings sometimes are poorly attended or dominated by people with a specific agenda, Boulanger said.

"One of the main benefits of a human dimensions survey of hunters is that it can yield information from a large, randomly selected sample of hunters from across the state, including those who are unable to make state meetings," he said.

In that context, the recent survey is historic, he said.

"What we're collecting now is baseline information of the first survey of its kind and breadth in North Dakota," Boulanger said. "This human dimensions survey of North Dakota deer hunters is novel in that respect. Hopefully, we'll continue to gather good information that can help with management."

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Black, who came to UND after completing her bachelor's degree at the University of Georgia, said she started on the project in May 2015, and the survey was mailed to a random sample of hunters this past April.

"It took almost a year to develop the questions and (work with) Game and Fish to make sure we were asking the right questions," she said.

Surprising results

Black presented a poster at a national wildlife conference earlier this month in Raleigh, N.C., focusing just on the bowhunter responses. She said she was surprised at the results, given recent deer population declines.

"I expected people would voice a lot more unhappiness than they actually did," she said.

Jensen says the survey answers some questions but raises others that pertain to attracting and retaining hunters in the state.

"In the coming years, we're probably going to need to do some human dimension work on not just deer hunters, but hunters in general, and attitudes and expectations of our hunting public to really understand what's going on," Jensen said.

Black says she went into the wildlife field because she was interested in working with animals. She said the survey has given her an appreciation for the importance of dealing with people-the human dimensions side of wildlife management.

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"It's important we keep funding things like this, even though it may be scary for agencies to know what people are really thinking," Black said. "As long as we can keep hunters happy, it's great for conservation and good for hunters."

Game and Fish provided more than $47,000 in federal Pittman-Robertson funds, which are generated from sales taxes on guns and ammo, for the study, and UND contributed nearly $16,000 in matching funds, Jensen said.

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 bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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