Good news: If survey numbers are correct, then North Dakota mule deer are definitely making a comeback, especially in the Badlands. North Dakota Game and Fish (NDGF) recently completed an aerial survey that counted 2,446 mule deer, the Associated Press reports. While the count is slightly lower than last year’s tally, the current fawn-to-doe ratio is at 84 fawns per 100 does, which is higher than last year’s ratio and only a bit below “the long-term average of 89 per 100.”
“This is encouraging news for continued growth of mule deer in the Badlands,” Bruce Stillings, NDGF big game biologist, told the AP. Stillings points out that the herds have had to recover significantly since 2011 after herds weathered severe winters for three consecutive years; however, fawn production has been on the upward swing since 2013.
While rifle season opened in North Dakota for both mule deer and whitetail deer last Sunday, there are still restrictions in place with regard to shooting mule deer does. In Unit 4A, mule deer doe hunting is not allowed—a restriction that hasn’t changed since 2012. NDGF removed the mule deer doe hunting ban in the other seven hunting units in 2016 and 2017, according to the AP.
“The farther north you go in North Dakota, the winter conditions get a little bit tougher,” said State Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams. “And it’s an awfully busy part of the Badlands as far as oil and gas development goes. Mule deer, generally speaking, they’re sensitive.”
Williams also points out that sparse mule deer numbers for that specific unit may also have something to do with mountain lions.
“While we don't have a large lion population, they do eat deer and can have a localized impact on deer numbers,” said Williams.
For the most part, though, mule deer opportunity this season is pretty good.
“It definitely appears deer numbers are pretty good in most parts of the state. Some parts of the state, the farther east you get, the numbers are lower, but the tags are lower too,” said Williams. “For those who did draw a deer license, they're going to have a good opportunity regardless of where they're at.”