BISMARCK, North Dakota — Deer hunters will take to the fields of North Dakota on Friday, but some 40,000 outdoorsmen who had hoped to join them won't be able to due to a 30-year low in available licenses.
Williston attorney Kent Reierson, one of the would-be hunters denied licenses due to a dramatic decline in the state deer population, said he understands the situation.
"We've been doing archery hunting as well as a lot of pheasant hunting, and we haven't seen a lot of white-tailed deer in the area," Reierson said. "I think Game and Fish has responded appropriately."
The deer gun season opens at noon Friday and runs through Nov. 24. The state issued only 59,500 licenses this year, the lowest since 1983 and less than half the record 149,400 licenses just six years ago. Three straight harsh winters beginning in 2008 took a toll on the deer population, leading to the cutback in hunting.
"People have been very understanding," said Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the state Game and Fish Department, which regulates hunting and fishing. "They realize in order to rebuild the deer population, you have to cut back on deer licenses, especially doe licenses."
Some people question if too many doe tags were issued during the good years.
"You just simply cannot be that aggressive, selling that many tags," said Lynn Kongslie, who ranches in the Towner area and runs an outfitting business, catering primarily to bow hunters. The bow hunting season opened earlier this fall.
"I pretty much told all of my clients not to come," Kongslie said. "A few of them still came. They didn't see very many deer. Hardly anybody shot a deer."
Kreil said that during the good years for deer, Game and Fish heard "loud and clear" from the public that there were too many deer around causing property damage and car accidents. That led to the aggressive management, he said.
"If we would have known we were going to have three very difficult winters back to back to back, we might have done things differently," Kreil said. "But how do you know that?"
Conditions this coming winter will have a big impact on how quickly the deer population rebounds, Kreil said. Another factor is loss of habitat due to more land being converted to lucrative crops. The effect of the oil boom in western North Dakota is still not known.
"The decline in the deer population is not a result of the energy development that has occurred; the question is, will the rebound in the deer population be impacted by the energy development?" Kreil said.
For hunters who were lucky enough to get license, this season should be a good one, with mostly favorable weather conditions, Kreil said.
Reierson said he was able to get a deer gun license to hunt in nearby Montana, and he also has bow hunted in North Dakota this fall with his sons and grandsons.
"I've been personally hunting since I was 11, so 48 years. As long as I can remember I went out with my dad, my grandfather," he said. "That heritage part, it's awfully nice passing that on."
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