North Dakota deer opportunities: an overview
Recently, we launched both North Dakota and South Dakota on our Insider platform! This was an exciting project for us as we worked through each state's hunting regulations, seasons and draw processes. We learned a lot of great new things about these states and the various opportunities they offer to nonresidents.
By far, the most lucrative opportunity in North Dakota for nonresidents will be found with the state’s deer hunts. North Dakota offers archery, muzzleloader and rifle opportunities; however, there are some specifics that hopeful applicants and hunters need to be aware of. In the following, we will be deep diving into the deer season breakdown and exploring everything you need to know to plan your own hunt in the Peace Garden State.
DEER SPECIES IN NORTH DAKOTA
Mule deer are found in the western half of North Dakota and, while populations are spotty, herd health is great. Mule deer can primarily be found in the Badlands along the Little Missouri River, but also inhabit the breaks along the main Missouri River. Most of North Dakota is comprised of private lands, but public opportunities can be found for hunters willing to put in the work.
Overall, trophy potential is on the lower side in North Dakota for mule deer. Most of the mature bucks harvested will fall in the 150” to 160" range; however, they can certainly grow larger.
Whitetail deer are found scattered throughout North Dakota and exist in great numbers. Whitetails inhabit a wide array of terrain types within the state, but the best hunting opportunities and trophy potentials are generally found in areas on or near agricultural crops. Some good opportunities can be found on the limited public lands available in the state; however, the best odds of success — and the biggest bucks v are usually found on private lands.
Overall, trophy potential is great for whitetail deer in North Dakota and anyone holding a tag could find the buck of a lifetime anywhere in the state. Certain parts of the state definitely stand out more than others, but the adaptability of the species lends itself to great hunting statewide.
As stated, North Dakota offers archery, muzzleloader and rifle seasons to hunters. There are some special restrictions and limitations of these various weapon types that hunters should know going into their planning process.
When looking at archery hunts for deer in North Dakota, nonresident hunters will have two choices: Deer bow over-the-counter (OTC) or the any deer bow.
With the OTC deer bow licenses, nonresident hunters can hunt any open unit in the state, but are only allowed to harvest whitetail deer. Residents may take either species of deer with this license. For those nonresidents interested in hunting mule deer with archery equipment, you must first draw an any deer bow nonresident license, which allows the hunter to take a deer of either species. This tag is also valid in any open unit across the state.
Muzzleloader licenses are available for both antlered whitetail deer or antlerless whitetail deer. There are no muzzleloader seasons for mule deer. Applicants who hold a muzzleloader tag can hunt in any of the units that are open across the entire state. The muzzleloader tags must be drawn through the public lottery and are available to both residents and nonresidents alike.
All rifle tags for deer in the state are issued through a public lottery that is available to both residents and nonresidents. Tags are specific to legal take and tags vary from antlered only, antlerless only, whitetail only and more. Rifle tags are unit specific so hunters will not have the ability to hunt adjacent units like the archery and muzzleloader tags. As with many other states, the rifle hunts carry the worst odds of all available licenses for deer.
THE POINTS SYSTEM
North Dakota uses a cubed bonus point system for the deer draw where tags are never guaranteed, but your odds of drawing increase exponentially year after year. Under the deer draw, an applicant can miss applying for a year without losing points; however, the applicant loses bonus points by failing to apply for two consecutive years. Bonus points are only used for first choice licenses while second choice options will not affect your point count.
Any applicant unsuccessful in drawing his or her first choice permit in the drawing receives a bonus point for next year's lottery. In years two, three and four, the points are doubled; and, for years five and beyond, they are cubed to increase the applicant's chances of drawing a permit.
(existing points * multiplier + 1)
in the draw
The downside to North Dakota’s draw system
With North Dakota, there is one fact in the nonresident draw that applicants really need to watch for. North Dakota offers licenses to various outfitters throughout the state that are available through the draw. These licenses are taken from the nonresident pool of allocated licenses and the outfitter draw takes place before the general public draw. At times, outfitters can draw all of the nonresident licenses available for a given hunt/unit, leaving no licenses available for nonresident applicants. Typically, you’ll see the greatest impact of this in the rifle seasons.
Nonresident tag allocation
North Dakota grants about 1% of its available deer licenses to nonresidents — a staggeringly low number when compared to other states. However, there are guaranteed set aside tags for the nonresident pool so they are not competing with residents during the draw for their 1%. This is a saving grace when it comes to that rule. The primary danger to the 1% allocation, though, is the outfitter draw.
GETTING A TAG
We’ve touched on what tags are drawn and which are OTC, but how do you go about securing a tag? The OTC deer bow license can be purchased through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's (NDGFD) Bismarck office, online through the NDGFD website or through an authorized license vendor.
If applying for any of the draw hunts nonresidents will need to front the entire cost of the deer license ($255) and purchase a general game and habitat license ($20), but both of these are refundable less application fees if unsuccessful in the draw.
For the draw hunts, it will be important to keep the draw deadlines in mind as there are some differences between these. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the nonresident deer any bow application has just passed (April 15) and the only option for still securing one of these will be through leftover licenses, which is not likely. The draw deadline for state muzzleloader and rifle licenses is tentatively set for June 7, 2023.
You can submit applications here.
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE OPPORTUNITIES IN NORTH DAKOTA
North Dakota is likely a state that will not make it onto everyone’s “to do” list, but there are some great opportunities there for those willing to look!
You’ll find the most limited options as a nonresident hunter when looking at mule deer hunts. All licenses available to nonresidents for mule deer must be drawn, but these tags are attainable. Overall trophy potential is so-so, but this can be a great option for good, fun hunting with a chance at a mature deer. You’ll find more public land in the more prolific habitat units on the western edge of the state so the DIY hunter will have some options.
Hands down, the chief deer export for North Dakota is going to be big whitetail bucks. With the amount of private lands and agricultural development in this state, whitetails have nearly everything they need to get big and the record books will show that. Nonresident archery tags for whitetail are OTC, but muzzleloader and rifle tags must be drawn. Some great hunting opportunities can be found on public lands; however, the best hunting — and most repeatable success — will be found on private lands.