North Dakota anxiously eyes continued rebound in deer hunting license numbers
BISMARCK, N.D. — Deer hunting licenses in North Dakota are likely to increase for a fourth consecutive year, moving closer to a state-set goal of 75,000 licenses as early as 2020.
Reaching that mark would represent a significant rebound from several harsh winters about a decade ago that impacted both the white-tailed deer and mule deer populations. That in turn would mean a boost to the state’s economy; 75,000 licenses would equate to tens of millions of dollars in spending by resident deer hunters, according to state tourism division data.
The state Game and Fish Department issued 55,150 licenses last year and is still determining the allotment for this year. The agency won’t release the number for a few more weeks, but it’s likely to be higher than last year, state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams told The Associated Press recently.
“In some areas where we’ve been very conservative (with licenses) these last several years, we can probably open up a little bit” this fall, he said.
Licenses hit a low mark of 43,275 in 2015, after seven consecutive years of decline. The number has been slowly climbing since – to 49,000 in 2016, 54,500 in 2017 and 55,150 last year. The goal of Game and Fish has been to get to 75,000 by 2020, which the agency believes would be a new normal given the reduction in wildlife habitat in recent years due to oil development and reduced grassland areas resulting from changes in farming practices.
Given those factors, the state is unlikely to return to the days of more than 100,000 deer licenses, which Game and Fish issued for 11 consecutive years beginning in 2001, peaking at 149,400 in 2008.
“By 2020, to be able to hit that (75,000) mark or not, we might be close,” Williams said. “We’re probably going to fall short, but not by much.”
Game and Fish announced recently that the success rate of deer hunters in North Dakota last year was 64%. It marked the 10th consecutive year the rate fell below the 70% threshold that state wildlife officials consider a good season.
Hunter success is one of the factors Game and Fish considers when determining the number of deer licenses to issue the following year, along with depredation reports, hunter observations, reports from the public and agency field staff, and winter aerial surveys.
Officials determining this year’s license allotment are relying more heavily on survey results than on the 2018 hunter success rate, which Williams said is “a little bit head-scratching in some places” because the surveys show good deer numbers in some areas where success was low last fall.
This year’s regular deer gun season is tentatively scheduled to begin at noon on Nov. 8.
“Overall, I think we’re setting up for a good year,” Williams said.