Growth of western North Dakota mule deer population means more hunting opportunities
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual spring mule deer survey in April, 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.
Big game management supervisor Bruce Stillings said mule deer in the badlands have recovered nicely following the winters of 2009-11, 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, according to Stillings, can be increased in all badlands units except 4A, which experienced more severe winter conditions and a slight decline in mule deer numbers.
The spring mule deer survey is used 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.