Record Number of Deer Licenses Proposed

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For the third consecutive year the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing a record number of deer gun licenses, according to Randy Kreil, game and fish wildlife division chief. The figure being submitted to Governor John Hoeven's office for approval is 123,475 licenses, an increase of 6,550 from 2002.

The increase in licenses, according to Kreil, is intended to reduce deer numbers to unit management goals. "Several mild winters and the resulting increase in reproductive success have raised the state's white-tailed deer population above management objectives," he said.

Over the past several years, overall license numbers for antlerless white-tailed deer have increased significantly, up to 60 or even 80 percent in some units, Kreil added. At the same time, antlered deer licenses have remained constant, or increased only slightly.

Mule deer licenses are proposed to increase slightly from 2002, Kreil said, reflecting a conservative approach to managing mule deer numbers. "Population and reproductive surveys conducted in the past nine months indicate a modest increase in overall mule deer numbers," he added, "therefore the department is recommending a small increase in available licenses."

During the annual spring mule deer survey in April, biologists counted 2,061 mule deer in 23 study areas surveyed, up from 1,948 tallied last year. Density of mule deer per square mile was 7.3, up from 6.8 in 2002. The density of mule deer in 2003 was also higher than the long-term average of 6.1 mule deer per square mile.

The number of licenses recommended for the 2003 season includes 5,225 for mule deer, an increase of 350 from last year; 2,364 for muzzle-loader, up 164 from last year; and 267 restricted youth antlered mule deer, an increase of six from last year.

Other significant proposals include:

* Closing an additional portion of Unit 3C to centerfire rifles. The area is that part of Unit 3C starting on ND Highway 1806 from Mandan city limits south to a point directly west of the mouth of the Heart River. Then east to the west bank of the Missouri River, then north along the west bank of the Missouri River to Mandan city limits and then west along Mandan city limits to the point of origin.

* Changing how deer are tagged. This change came after discussions with meat processors, taxidermists, hunters and game wardens, Kreil said. The change involves the addition of a carcass tag which will remain with the meat while the primary tag will stay with the head or antlers. "This eliminates the problems that arise when people send different parts of the animal to different places," Kreil added, "such as the taxidermist and the meat processor. Previously, one part of the animal had no tag with it."

* Allowing for a fourth license. A fourth license could be proclaimed for antlerless deer only if the game and fish director determines after the regular lottery that an adequate number of licenses remain available. The fourth season would run concurrently with the regular gun, muzzle-loader and bow seasons. "In previous years there were allowances made for a second and third season only," Kreil said. "In anticipation of an increased number of available licenses the fourth season option was added if necessary."

Applications for the 2003 season will be available mid-May. The proposed opening date for the 2003 deer gun season is Nov. 7.