Rut Reporter David Draper grew up hunting deer and small game throughout this region and presently lives on a family farm in Nebraska. Draper, former communications specialist for Cabela’s and an authority on the Great Plains, subsists on a diet of duck breast and venison. States covered: ND, SD, NE and KS.
Just a few years ago, North Dakota deer hunters were living the high life. Deer populations were at or above management objective levels, leading to increased license availability. In 2008, a record 150,000 deer gun licenses were authorized as the state’s wildlife managers worked to get populations under control, mostly through the use of aggressive doe harvests. Contrast that to the 110,000 gun licenses authorized in 2011. The reason? Three straight harsh winters that increased mortality among adult deer and severely dampened fawn recruitment.
“These harsh winters have put so much stress on adult does that they don’t have the reserves to reproduce effectively,” said Bruce Stillings, big-game supervisor for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. “This is especially apparent among mule deer numbers where just this year we’ve seen the lowest fawn production since we started keeping track by in the 1950s.” Adding to the state’s deer woes is a current outbreak of EHD among herds in the western half of the state, where numbers are already on the downward trend.
“We’re in the midst of an EHD outbreak, documented from Williams County on north to Bowman County on the southern extent,” said Stillings. “Record rainfall in May followed by a very long stretch of warm, high temperature and high humidity promoted a midge population that spreads EHD among deer herds.”
The records rains will also affect hunter access this fall as approximately half of the state’s wildlife management areas along the Missouri River either can’t be accessed or won’t be in any shape to support wildlife due to receding flood waters.
On the flipside, rains have created ideal habitat conditions, especially in the West. “The Badlands are as green and lush as they’ve ever been,” said Stillings. “Good grass and shrub growth should have animals heading into winter in good shape.”