Western North Dakota sees dip in mule deer numbers
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 is down from last year, but still 14 percent above the long-term average.
Biologists counted 2,454 mule deer in 298.8 square miles during this year’s survey. Overall mule deer density in the badlands was 8.2 deer per square mile, compared to 10.3 in 2018.
Although mule deer density was lower than 2018, big game management supervisor Bruce Stillings said the population is above objective and remains at a level able to support more hunting opportunities this fall.
“The 2019 spring results show that mule deer have recovered nicely following 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,” Stillings said. “The population recovery is due to no antlerless harvest for five years, combined with milder winter conditions during 2012-2016, which led to good fawn production since 2013. However, the long-term health of the population will depend on maintaining high quality habitat.”
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.