The past couple of years between winter mortality, harvest pressure and hunter success, the deer management goals in many units were met and the predicted outcome of lower hunter success and fewer licenses became real.
Yes, for deer hunters it makes no difference the season or month, the topic of deer is never stale.
While it's still six months from the firearms season, May is a pivotal month because that's when the deer proclamation for the year is set and hunters begin their quest for fall licenses.
Nonhunters still mostly understand the passion deer hunting generates in North Dakota. Even if you don't hunt deer on opening Friday, there's a pretty good chance the opening weekend immersion into the outdoors affects some facet of your day or weekend.
Consider for a moment that around 100,000 different applicants are in the deer lottery. With a state population of around 640,000 range most households have a deer hunter, or at least a relative, neighbor or friend donning blaze orange each fall. I'd challenge anyone to email me if you do not know someone who hunts deer in our state.
When this year's proclamation is approved and applications are out, prospective deer hunters will notice fewer licenses available across the state. While we still have tens of thousands of licenses more than the early 1980s, it has actually been the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's goal to reduce the deer herd unit-by-unit across the state over the last five years. The benchmark was to maintain the state's deer population so it would annually support about 100,000 licenses, down from nearly 150,000 available just two years ago.
The past couple of years between winter mortality, harvest pressure and hunter success, the deer management goals in many units were met and the predicted outcome of lower hunter success and fewer licenses became real. Some hunters who are accustomed to buying and filling multiple licenses are no doubt disappointed, while others undersand how deer management is gauged over years and even decades, rather than a one or two season snap shot.
Last year's deer season hunter success dropped 11percent from the 2008 rate of 70 percent. At the same time, we need to understand that the 70 percent or higher rate of the past decade, as more and more licenses were being authorized to help reduce the herd, is extremely high. The lower success rate from last fall, and lower deer license numbers for this year, are products of back-to-back tough winters.
We also shouldn't overlook subtle landscape changes, most notably fewer Conservation Reserve Program grasslands and more row crops. The jury is still out on how much the presence of standing corn influences hunting success, and last fall there was a lot of unharvested corn during deer season.
Access is also an issue. If access is limited in some areas with high deer densities, hunter success in the area is lower and yet the deer population can expand beyond local carrying capacity.
These factors are all part hunting, habitat and human behavior that make wildlife and deer management an ever-changing process. Which is what you'll see in this fall's 2010 deer application season framework, including the elimination of early doe seasons in the northeast and southwest corners.
The most important point I can make? The deadline to apply is June 2 and the opening day is Friday, Nov. 5 at noon Central Time. Might not be a bad idea to submit your vacation request with your application? Just a thought …
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org