GRAND FORKS, N.D. — For employees at Century Electric in Grand Forks, the opening day of North Dakota’s deer gun season traditionally has been a day off for workers who wanted to spend the afternoon hunting.
That option still exists, but not like most years.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department this year offered 43,275 deer gun licenses, the lowest number since 1978, which means thousands of hunters didn’t draw tags in the lottery.
North Dakota’s deer gun season opens at noon today.
“Our whole shop typically takes off on Friday,” said Greg Mattson, co-owner of Century Electric. “We normally have a mass exodus, but it isn’t going to be quite as bad as the past couple of years, I’m guessing. Typically, we’re down to bare bones for electricians (on the opener), but now we’ll only be missing a few.”
Mattson is among the masses who didn’t draw a rifle tag this year, but as an avid bowhunter, he still has the opportunity to hunt deer anywhere in the state because there’s no quota on resident archery tags. Based on conversations he’s had with other hunters, Mattson said this year’s gun opener doesn’t seem to have the excitement of previous seasons when tags–and deer–were more abundant.
“The enthusiasm is just not there because people wish the numbers would get back up again,” Mattson said. “There’s no talk about it. Nobody’s really too excited about it. They’re just wondering if they’re going to get anything.”
Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said the low number of available tags could mean better quality hunting opportunities for those who drew a license.
“One of the positives about having low licenses is lower numbers of people in the field,” Williams said. “That equates to a higher-quality hunt.”
Jon Falch, a hunter from Larimore, N.D., said it seems as if excitement about this year’s deer gun season is down “quite a bit,” adding he knows of only four people who drew gun season tags locally. Anecdotally, though, Falch said he thinks deer numbers in the area are doing OK based on what he’s seen during commutes to work at Grand Force Air Force Base and while bowhunting.
Offering a plug, Falch said attendance for Saturday’s Hunter Pancake Breakfast in Northwood, N.D., should be “outstanding” because more hunters will be able to set their sights on pancakes instead of deer.
The breakfast runs 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Northwood Community Center, 12 N. Raymond St.
View from Minnesota
East of the Red River, the outlook for Saturday’s Minnesota firearms deer opener seems to be better if for no other reason than hunters can at least buy a license. Unlike North Dakota, which issues a set number of gun licenses by lottery, Minnesota allows hunters to buy licenses over the counter and instead caps the number of antlerless–or doe–permits available in many areas.
As in North Dakota, deer populations are in rebuilding mode after several years of aggressive harvest and a couple of tough winters, and another conservative season is in store for Minnesota hunters.
Hunters without an antlerless permit are restricted to taking bucks only unless they hunt in an area that allows shooting either a buck or a doe.
John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, said he expects hunters will see more deer, especially does and fawns. That will limit shooting opportunities because fewer antlerless permits were available.
The DNR is projecting this year’s harvest at 140,000 to 155,000 deer, a tally that’s similar to last year.
“We still have the season set fairly conservatively,” Williams said. “We’re not expecting the harvest to be greatly increased over the last couple of years. I think it is a season set for passing up on does.”
Loren Abel of Mentor, Minn., president of the Min-Dak Border Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said he regularly sees deer when he driving from his home to work in East Grand Forks.
“I guess I’m more optimistic that they have somewhat rebounded,” Abel said. “There’s way more people saying they’re not going to hunt deer on the North Dakota side (of the Red) than on the Minnesota side because they didn’t get many tags.”
As in previous seasons, Abel says he’ll be hunting near the Red River south of East Grand Forks. Only 150 antlerless permits were available in the deer permit area where Abel hunts, but he managed to draw a tag.
“I got drawn last year, so that tells me not many people are applying for them, either,” Abel said. “Everybody I know is planning to hunt the way they always do.”
Nearly 500,000 hunters–give or take a few thousand–are expected to take the field opening day in Minnesota.The DNR recommends hunters buy their licenses early to avoid any potential issues with the electronic licensing system because of high sales volumes.