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N.D. Game & Fish notebook: Report shows 2011 deer season success was lowest in recent history

A whitetail doe sneaks through the woods during a recent firearms deer opener. Tyler Shoberg / West Fargo Pioneer

As expected, North Dakota deer hunters took fewer deer last fall than in previous years, according to harvest statistics recently finalized by the State Game and Fish Department.

Slightly more than 95,000 hunters took more than 49,000 deer during the 2011 deer gun season. Hunter success was 51 percent, down from 64 percent in 2010 and well below the annual average of 70 percent during the past decade.

Randy Kreil, wildlife chief, said the final numbers were somewhat expected due to low deer numbers in many parts of the state following three consecutive difficult winters, and a past aggressive harvest approach on antlerless deer in units with deer numbers above management goals.

"There is no question our deer population has been reduced because of these factors," Kreil said. "This mild winter is exactly what is needed for the population to start rebounding. However, hunters should expect a lot fewer licenses this fall."

The state Game and Fish Department is in the process of determining recommendations for licenses in the 2012 deer proclamation. These recommendations will be discussed at the upcoming Game and Fish advisory board meetings, scheduled for the week of April 9-13. The proclamation will be sent to the governor's office for approval in late April.

A number of population indices determine license numbers, including harvest rates, aerial surveys, deer-vehicle collision reports, depredation reports, hunter observations, input at advisory board meetings, and comments from the public, landowners and department field staff.

Game and Fish made available 109,900 deer gun licenses in 2011, with more than 97 percent issued to hunters.

Hunter success for antlered white-tailed deer was 53 percent, and antlerless whitetail was 53 percent.

Mule deer buck success was 54 percent, while mule deer doe hunters had a success rate of 59 percent.

Hunters with any-antlered or any-antlerless licenses almost exclusively harvest white-tailed deer. These buck hunters had a success rate of 50 percent, while doe hunters had a success rate of 54 percent.

Hunters drawing a muzzleloader license had a success rate of 35 percent, while young hunters during the youth season had a success rate of 48 percent.

New licenses needed April 1

Hunters, trappers and anglers are reminded that new fishing and furbearer licenses are required April 1.

The dates for the furbearer license coincide with fishing season. The 2012-13 licenses are effective April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

In addition, anglers are reminded this is the first year of a new two-year fishing proclamation. Refer to the 2012-14 North Dakota Fishing Guide for regulations.

Licenses can be purchased online by accessing the online services link at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website,

Bighorn sheep license sells for $42,000 at auction

North Dakota's 2012 bighorn sheep auction license sold for $42,000 at the March 17 Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation annual meeting in Bloomington, Minn.

North Dakota's auction license allows the winning bidder the rare privilege of pursuing a North Dakota bighorn on a self-guided hunt.

One hundred percent of the auction license proceeds, plus an additional $10,000 donated by MCWSF, are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota.

In addition, a five percent conservation fee for all auction licenses generated an additional $2,100 from the sale of North Dakota's license for wild sheep conservation.

Whooping crane reports wanted

Whooping cranes are in the midst of their spring migration and sightings will increase as they make their way through North Dakota over the next several weeks. Anyone seeing these birds as they move through the state is asked to report sightings so the birds can be tracked.

Whoopers stand about five feet tall and have a wingspan of about seven feet from tip to tip. They are bright white with black wing tips, which are visible only when the wings are outspread. In flight they extend their long necks straight forward, while their long, slender legs extend out behind the tail. Whooping cranes typically migrate singly, or in groups of 2-3 birds, and may be associated with sandhill cranes.

Other white birds such as snow geese, swans and egrets are often mistaken for whooping cranes. The most common misidentification is pelicans, because their wingspan is similar and they tuck their pouch in flight, leaving a silhouette similar to a crane when viewed from below.

Anyone sighting whoopers should not disturb them, but record the date, time, location, and the birds' activity. Observers should also look closely for and report colored bands which may occur on one or both legs. Whooping cranes have been marked with colored leg bands to help determine their identity.

Whooping crane sightings should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 701-387-4397, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's main office in Bismarck at 701-328-6300, or to local game wardens around the state. Reports help biologists locate important whooping crane habitat areas, monitor marked birds, determine survival and population numbers, and identify times and migration routes.