Deer Numbers on the Rise

Doug Leier

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  • Prostaff Member Doug Leier

My guess is that most deer hunters don't tire of the “Turdy Point Buck” tune on the radio until the backside of deer season. For a change, though, I'd sure enjoy listening to a refrain about hunting doe in North Dakota.

Then again, doe hunting doesn't quite get the credit it deserves. In fact, when stories of deer seasons past bounce around like an empty pop can in the box of a pickup, odds are you won't hear many recollections about “the time Joe got that doe down in the coulee.”

Seriously, next time the coffee conversation kicks up a deer hunting story and the rest of the crew begin adding their own into the mix, keep a mental count of how many include our antlerless deer. My guess is not too many, but when you really think about it in terms of total licenses, you realize that the majority of the deer hunting effort and harvest is does.

That wasn't always the case. It wasn't too long ago that deer numbers were such that some hunters applied a doe license just so they had a reasonable chance of getting to hunt deer at all.
Nowadays, about 90 percent of hunters in North Dakota's first deer lottery drawing apply for a buck license, knowing there aren't enough buck licenses to go around, but that antlerless licenses will be available in most units after the first lottery.

Part of the interest in these remaining licenses is that they can be used in their designated unit during the regular deer rifle season with any legal firearm or bow, the archery season with a bow, and also during the muzzleloader season with a legal blackpowder gun.

From a deer management standpoint in North Dakota, does are the key. Game and Fish Department big Bill Jensen relates, "The way you control the deer population is not by shooting bucks, but by shooting does.”

Jensen said each adult doe will, on average, give birth to two fawns in the spring. So, for example, if that adult doe is not bagged this fall, by next November there will be three deer running around instead of just one. “Deer are a pretty forgiving species,” Jensen said, “so if you just allow them to do their thing and reproduce, they are pretty easy to manage.

“But once you’ve hit your goals and you have to start controlling the population, then it becomes much more difficult in balancing the harvest rate. “We need to get a good doe harvest in order to control deer populations …it's as simple as that,” he said. “And if hunters are not doing that, if they are not helping in the process of harvesting does, they are not fostering sound deer management.”

I'm not exactly sure when or why doe hunting for meat became a stigma for some hunters. But obviously it is not that way for a majority of hunters, who eagerly snap up nearly all of the antlerless licenses the Department makes available.

Jensen partly attributes a societal shift to the change in philosophy of some hunters. “When I was growing up, and maybe this is misperception, but it was nice if you got a big buck,” he said.“But it was more important that you got meat.”

People had more of a tie to the land back then, Jensen said. They grew up on farms and looked at animals as something to garnish the dinner table, not adorn a wall. “Whereas now, there has been a one or two generational shift in families away from the farm, and hunting has become more of a social event, a rekindling of family traditions.”

I totally relate to hunting as a social event … but deer on the table as the ultimate objective. Whether it's me and my son, or your regular crew, the faces will change, but the passion for deer hunting in North Dakota remains, just like a good story at coffee, it never goes cold.

Posted by Doug Leier under Hunting on November 4, 09 09:08 AM | Permalink

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