North Dakota Mule Deer Populations On Upswing
Bob McNally 05.18.17
North Dakota is ready to lift almost all of its mule deer hunting restrictions in the Badlands area, thanks to five years of stable and growing populations. North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists link this steady growth to mild winters and hunting restrictions which protect mule deer does.
This year’s spring survey found a 16% increase from last year, and for the last five years mule populations have increased by at least 15%.
With strong fawn recruitment over the last few years, this means a change in hunting restrictions for the upcoming season.
“We have been very conservative with mule deer doe harvests, which also plays a role as mule deer are not as prolific as whitetail deer and can struggle to rebound,” said Big Game Management Supervisor Bruce Stillings.
In 2012, North Dakota started a multi-year ban on mule deer doe hunting in an effort to stabilize populations. Because of the resulting steady growth in mule deer numbers, the state permitted mule deer doe hunting in five of these units in 2016. In 2017, all but one of the eight units will be open. The state anticipates lifting restrictions in all units next year if the population continues to rebound.
“The long-term health of the population will depend on maintaining high-quality habitat,” says Stillings.
Mule deer do not adapt as well as whitetail deer when habitat interruption or change occurs.
Much of North Dakota’s mule deer habitat is in oil country and the state and the Mule Deer Foundation have been working steadily with area landowners to create or improve 30,000 acres of habitat with the end goal being 50,000 acres.