Break out the blaze orangeNearly one in every six North Dakotans will take to the field Friday at noon or sometime during the following 16 1/2 days for their chance at a deer — even though natural factors have decreased their chances.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Nearly one in every six North Dakotans will take to the field Friday at noon or sometime during the following 16 1/2 days for their chance at a deer — even though natural factors have decreased their chances.
“Deer numbers are down, there’s no doubt we’ve had three bad winters,” said Jason Smith, big game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Jamestown. “Our surveys are down, but for the most part hunter success rates in surrounding units have been stable.”
With harsh weather in recent winters and large amounts of snow, shelter and food become tough for the animals to find, making it hard for many to survive.
This year 109,950 gun deer licenses were issued for North Dakota residents. In 2004-2005, the most recent peak of gun deer licenses, there were about 130,000 licenses issued, according to Smith.
“I’m expecting with the winter that’s being forecast that we’re probably going to have less next year than this year,” Smith said.
Hunters usually receive tags for antlered or antlerless deer through a lottery. Antlerless-deer tags are more numerous than antlered-deer tags.
This year the number was low enough that some hunters didn’t get an antlered tag or the chance to hunt in the unit of their choice, Smith said.
There are 38 different units hunters can apply to hunt in across the state. Jamestown is on the corners of four different units.
Hunters in other parts of the state can expect to find fewer deer because of a virus.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease has been detected in 11 of the 38 units in North Dakota, all in the southwest part of the state.
On Oct. 18, North Dakota Game and Fish suspended sales of first-come, first-serve licenses in those 11 units.
“The variety of calls and feedback we’ve been receiving from people range from a single dead deer to a dozen dead deer — and some more and some in between,” said Jeb Williams, assistant chief of wildlife division for Game and Fish. “We do know it’s significant based on the feedback we’ve received from the public.”
The virus that causes epizootic hemorrhagic disease — which is almost always fatal to white-tailed deer — is naturally occurring and dies out when there’s a hard frost. An infected deer is usually dead in two to four days.
A biting midge carries the disease and that midge usually dies with the first hard frost. Hunters do not have to worry about eating infected deer.
Those hunting in an infected unit can get a refund if their tags are mailed back before the start of the season.
So far there have been about 140 reports of the disease, but there is a high variability in affected areas.
Williams said to call local sources in an infected unit and check on deer reports if a hunter is concerned and might want a refund.
He said it’s unlikely that the disease could ever become widespread on this side of the Missouri River because of environmental conditions.
“It’s one of those things, that the midge is found in southwest North Dakota, and that’s where the outbreaks occur,” Williams said.
Chronic wasting disease also has affected two deer in North Dakota in the past two years.
CWD is a slowly progressing disease that attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, become weak and eventually die.
Both affected deer in North Dakota were found slightly north of the South Dakota border.
Some local hunters have expressed concerns about both diseases but nothing significant enough to warrant a return on licenses, said Gary Docktor, co-owner at Gun & Reel Sports.
“It’s just the camaraderie of going out hunting whether they shoot one or not it doesn’t really matter,” Docktor said. “They just want to go out. For a lot of people it’s an annual thing — deer hunting.”
The local morale toward gun deer season hasn’t decreased with the deer numbers either, he said. Contestants for the store’s annual Big Buck Contest are still expected to range between 300 and 400, which is about average.
“We’ve been busy so I haven’t really noticed if it’s (license numbers) down in our area,” Docktor said. “We’re still selling lots of shells and guns and hunting clothes.”
Smith said avid hunters will hunt deer regardless of the circumstances.
“We don’t want to paint a negative picture about the deer season, but we want people to remain optimistic,” Smith said. “They’re going to have to work hard this year to harvest their animal.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org