Published November 11, 2012, 05:25 AM

TALKIN WITH DOKKEN: Decline in deer tags this year for North Dakota

Dokken discusses why there are so few deer tags this hunting season in North Dakota

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Q. A lot of deer hunters in North Dakota are watching from the sidelines this hunting season because of the drastic reduction in available deer tags. Why did the Game and Fish Department cut the number of deer tags for this year’s rifle season?

A. North Dakota uses what’s called a “unit management system” to regulate the deer kill and, ultimately, the deer population across the state.

Under that system, the Game and Fish Department divides the state into 38 blocks, or units, offering a set number of buck tags and antlerless permits in each of those blocks. Because hunter demand traditionally exceeds the number of available licenses, the licenses are issued by lottery.

The system allows the Game and Fish Department to more effectively manage deer numbers in specific areas rather use a one-size-fits-all approach. Different parts of the state can support different numbers of deer based on factors such as available habitat and human populations.

Once the licenses are gone in a particular unit, hunters either have to look to other parts of the state where tags might remain or hope for better luck next year.

The department this year cut the number of deer gun licenses to 65,300, down from nearly 110,000 licenses last year and the lowest number since 1988. The reason: Poor hunting success last fall (52 percent) that was far below the benchmark of 70 percent success North Dakota hunters have come to expect.

Factors for the decline included three consecutive severe winters and several years of aggressive harvest to reduce a deer herd that had become too large. In an effort to rebuild the population and move hunter success toward more acceptable levels, Game and Fish reduced the number of tags for this year. As deer numbers rebound, look for the number of available to increase.

Until that happens, there’ll be hunters watching from the