An antelope advisory

MAKOTI – North Dakota hunters will have a chance to hunt pronghorn antelope this year for the first time since 2009. However, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says it anticipates opening only two hunting units, 3B and 4A, in the extreme southwest corner of the state.

NDG&F Wildlife Division Chief Randy Kreil told sportsmen attending a District 2 Advisory Board meeting here last Tuesday that other units could possibly be opened following aerial surveys conducted later this summer to determine both population and fawn recruitment. North Dakota last held an antelope season in 2009. The season was closed in 2010 due to limited numbers. Game and Fish cites a series of severe winters from 2008-10 for a 74 percent decline in the pronghorn population.

An informational handout at the meeting stated, “The 2013 population was 49 percent higher than 2012. This increase is a result of three years without a hunting season and milder winter weather conditions in 2011 and 2012.”

“We do have some good news,” Kreil told meeting attendees. “We can support minimal harvest in a few units. We’ll have a limited supply of licenses. We’ll have a single season lottery for bow or gun. That’s our plan at this point for issuing licenses.”

Traditional pronghorn hunting units covered all of the state west and south of the Missouri River. The two units proposed to open are in Slope and Bowman counties, making it a long drive for prospective hunters from this area.

“We don’t want to force anybody to hunt in a unit that is unfamiliar to them,” said Kreil. “If you don’t apply, you’ll keep your preference points. Those will carry forward until your unit is available.”

Preference points are earned by applicants for pronghorn antelope licenses who are not chosen in the lottery. The more preference points an applicant accumulates, the more chances he has in the drawing.

While Kreil did not say specifically how many pronghorn licenses will be issued, he stated that the first 50 are required to be offered as gratis permits to landowners. Although the chances appear slim, Kreil indicated other pronghorn units could possibly be opened up following the results of aerial surveys conducted later this summer.

The combination rifle and archery lottery will be a first for the state. In previous pronghorn seasons, archers were able to purchase an unlimited number of licenses, limited to one per hunter. Pronghorn archery licenses increased from 572 in 1999 to 2,183 in 2009.

According to Game and Fish, there are no longer enough pronghorns to support an unlimited archery harvest and that they “expect considerably more archery hunters following four years of season closure and an increased number of people living in the area because of the oil boom.” Additionally, no non-resident licenses for pronghorn will be issued in 2014.

Applicants in this year’s lottery must indicate whether they will be hunting with a rifle or bow. The archery season would run from Aug. 29 through Sept. 28. The rifle season is from Oct. 3-19.

Deer season

Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand spoke regarding the state’s 2014 deer gun season. A series of special deer season meetings were held recently at eight locations in the state. The meetings followed one of the poorest seasons of success for deer gun hunters despite a large cut in the number of licenses issued.

“There will be no change in 2014. There’s just not enough time,” said Steinwand. “What the future is, I don’t know. We do know that habitat is going to be the key to this. We need to get grass on the landscape.”

Like the pronghorn, deer were hit hard by severe winters, but there are other factors contributing to the decline too loss of habitat, aggressive harvest and predators among them. Kreil has been busy perusing comments from sportsmen who attended the recent meetings and those that submitted comments via e-mail or by phone call.

“I’m trying categorize hundreds of comments,” said Kreil. “There were over 400 on the website. Everybody is protecting their own turf. Some, you can tell, put that aside. It’s going to take a while.”

The 2013 deer gun season had the least tags issued since 1983. Game and Fish has not yet determined how many tags to issue this year. Aerial deer surveys were very limited due to a lack of snow cover over almost all of the white-tailed deer range. Mule deer surveys were scheduled to begin this week but likely will be delayed due to heavy snow that fell over much of southwest North Dakota last week. Unlike whitetails that are highly visible against a white background, mule deer are difficult to see in snowy conditions. However, their white rump patch becomes highly visible when the ground is free of snow.

“This last winter was long and cold, but there wasn’t much snow,” said Kreil. “I’m thinking we’ll be in pretty good shape. That’s what I’m hoping.”

It is expected that this year’s deer hunting regulations will be finalized in early June.