North Dakota Game and Fish lifts the bulk of mule deer hunting restrictions as the prized big game animal has made an impressive comeback.
North Dakota is lifting almost all the restrictions in the Badlands for mule deer after a 16 percent spike in the herd from the previous year.
This is the outcome of steady growth for the animals in the last five years showing a sustained upwards trend that has allowed the Game and Fish Department to ease the restrictions.
More mild winter weather and previous limits on the hunting have had a positive effect in conservation and management. Fawn production has steadily increased and a recent survey by biologists found 3,349 deer in a 306-square-mile area. This gives a ratio of about 10.9 deer per square mile, up from a very significant low of 4.6 animals during 2012.
One of the key management tools over the years was the restriction on the harvesting of does; allowing for the increase of mule deer and helping reduce the damage from a series of hard winters. In 2016 the hunting of female mule deer was allowed in only 5 of the 8 western hunting units. This coming season they can be hunted in 7 of the units.
Another key aspect of mule deer growth is the quality of habitat available, which effects long-term numbers. State and conservation groups work towards preserving and increasing good mule deer habitat conditions. Regional Director Marshall Johnson of the Mule Deer Foundation had this to say about habitat maintenance and improvement.
"Anytime that you improve habitat, you just increase the chances of sustainable herds, for all wildlife. Without habitat, there's no game. Without game, there's no hunt."
The Mule Deer Foundation, private landowners and state representatives have been working hard to enable this mule deer comeback. Approximately $134,000 has been raised for this conservation effort and 30,000 acres improved in the last two years. It is estimated around 56,000 acres will be improved mule deer habitat by the end of 2017.
State and private efforts have made significant gains in improving mule deer in Western North Dakota and hunters can look forward to increased hunting opportunities this fall.