- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The percentage of hunters who successfully killed a deer in North Dakota last fall was the highest in five years, increasing the likelihood that more licenses will be made available this year after a scant allocation in 2015.

Game and Fish Department data released this week show 68 percent of the 39,470 deer hunters bagged an animal, up from 60 percent in 2014 and a significant rise from the all-time low of 51 percent in 2011.

“Seventy percent success rate has typically been our bar that we try to reach,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said. “We are getting close to meeting that bar.”

The harvest rate is one factor the state agency uses to determine how many hunting licenses to issue, along with comments from the public, depredation reports and data from aerial population surveys. The department has not been able to do surveys of white-tailed deer the past two years because of mild winters and lack of snow, making last year’s harvest rate more important.

“People who had a license had a good opportunity to harvest a deer,” Williams said. “That is somewhat of an index of the number of deer on the landscape.”

In 2008, deer were plentiful and Game and Fish issued just under 150,000 licenses, a record. Since then the state has seen a decline in grassland habitat, a booming oil industry in the west and several harsh winters, all of which took a toll on the deer population. The state last year issued 43,275 licenses, the lowest in nearly 40 years.

“I hope the number of licenses we issued last year is where we bottomed out,” Williams said. “I can’t imagine we’ll see a big increase this year, but in some units there likely will be an increase.”

Game and Fish will send its recommendation for 2016 licenses later this month to the governor, and the formal announcement on license numbers will come in late April or early May.

Officials are still waiting for the results of an aerial mule deer survey being conducted in the western Badlands this week. Hunting of mule deer does was banned last year for the fourth straight season to help its smaller population recover. Williams said last fall that the restriction might be lifted in 2016 if the winter was mild, which it turned out to be.

“Mule deer probably didn’t have a lot of hurdles getting through the winter,” Williams said, adding that the department will consider allowing doe hunting this year.


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