BERTHOLD North Dakota Game and Fish Department leaders took advantage of a large turnout at last week's Advisory Board meeting here to obtain meaningful input on deer numbers. The status of the state's deer herd and future management options were discussed.
The deer gun season came to a close in late November with many hunters reporting seeing far fewer deer than expected. Even though the number of deer gun licenses was reduced from the previous season, the actual number of deer encountered during this past season appeared to be well below what many hoped to see. Several sportsmen in attendance told Game and Fish that, from what they observed, deer numbers were very low in their hunting units.
N.D. Game & Fish Department's Stanley District Game Warden Mike Raasakka, responded to a question about deer numbers and hunting pressure.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand, left, and Wildlife Division Chief Randy Kreil fielded questions during a Game and Fish Advisory Board meeting in Berthold last week.
"The deer numbers were down and the hunters were way down. I don't know if they just got frustrated and gave up or what," Raasakka said.
A series of harsh winters and loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres have contributed to the reduced deer herd, but there have been other influences as well from a large outbreak of fatal epizootic hemorrhagic disease to the issuing of tags well in advance of the season.
"We cut mule deer tags 50 percent, which we thought was a lot," Randy Kreil, Game and Fish Department Wildlife Division chief, told the Berthold gathering of sportsmen. "In hindsight, that probably wasn't enough."
Notable changes proposed to the 2012-14 North Dakota Fishing Proclamation
+ All fish released from bridges and wing-walls must be done so with a fish basket or container to ensure fish survival.
+ The use of night vision equipment or electronically enhanced light gathering optics, including all lights used for locating and/or shooting at fish, is legal. Allows the use of any type of light for the taking of all non-game fish species while bowfishing.
+ Include Sundays for snag and release only of paddlefish.
+ Increase the daily and possession limits on northern pike to 5 and 10 respectively.
+ Opens all state water bodies, except those with muskie, to darkhouse spearfishing.
"I can tell you right now there will be significant changes in the number of deer licenses next year," Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand told the group. "Some in the department are recommending that we close the mule deer doe season."
Hunters are allowed a first and second choice when applying for the deer gun lottery. The majority choose "buck" as their No. 1 choice and "doe" No. 2. However, Steinwand explained, many hunters were disappointed this year when they didn't get drawn for their first choice and their second choice was no longer available. In many units so many hunters applied for doe licenses that there were no remaining licenses available for "second choice" applicants.
Hunters who apply for buck licenses but do not get drawn, are given preference points that increase their odds of receiving a buck license in subsequent years. Steinwand explained that because the number of overall deer gun licenses is expected to be reduced substantially next year, so much so that many hunters may not get drawn for either a buck or doe license, Game and Fish is not ruling out the possibility of preference points for those wishing to hunt does but were unsuccessful in the lottery.
The state's pronghorn antelope season was closed this year due to low numbers. Game and Fish did not list a 2012 antelope season on the schedule of opening dates handed out to those in attendance.
"We'll fly our regular surveys again in July, all units," Kreil said. "Maybe some antelope will migrate in, but South Dakota tells us they are at their lowest numbers in a decade in the northwest. As far as a season here, it'll be a while. That's my guess."
Greg Power, Game and Fish fisheries division chief, briefed that gathering about upcoming proposed changes to the state's two-year fishing guide. A new guide is due for 2012. Top proposed changes cited by Power included an increase in the northern pike limit from three to five and the opening of all state waters, with the exception of those containing muskie, to darkhouse spearfishing.
"There's a ton of pike in the state right now," Power said. "We have 200 lakes with pike and most of those have abundant populations of pike. As far as spearing, we require all darkhouse spearfishermen to register. We believe they account for only 1-1/2 percent of the statewide harvest."