For 20 years now, the February issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS has carried a recap of the deer license lottery drawing results. It started back in 1994 as way to keep hunters informed as to how the new "preference point" system applied to the deer license lottery was working.
It's a popular article that many hunters pore over with a fine-tooth comb to see how their luck in the license drawing compares with statistical averages in all the units.
Game and Fish implemented the current point system for the first time for the 1993 deer gun season lottery drawing as a response to increasing hunter demand for doing something different that would more fairly distribute high-demand licenses. That is the same type of input Game and Fish is receiving these days as we are coming off a season with the fewest licenses available in three decades, and a high number of potential hunters who were not able to get a gun season license.
The circumstances were a little different 20 years ago. Most of the feedback related to mule deer buck licenses, which at the time were managed with a one-year waiting period for hunters, which meant if you got a mule deer buck license one year, you couldn't even apply for a mule deer buck license the next year.
Over time, however, so many hunters started applying for mule deer licenses that one could expect to beat the odds on average only about once every four or five years. With generally a growing whitetail population in much of the state, and increasing hunter interest, by the early 1990s the Department started to hear about licensing issues in other units as more people applied for buck licenses. All of a sudden, people who were accustomed to getting a buck license every year were occasionally getting turned down.
The Game and Fish Department, and North Dakota hunters, are experiencing a somewhat similar situation now. The root cause is that North Dakota has significantly fewer deer than it did even six years ago, when Game and Fish issued a record number of licenses. Even then, not everyone could get a buck license in their unit of choice, but in 2013 we were looking at thousands of prospective deer hunters who did not get a buck or doe license in any unit.
And so, we are hearing from a lot of concerned deer hunters. They are concerned about low deer numbers, and they are concerned about allocation of licenses that are available.
Already last fall, we started talking internally about how we might address some of those concerns about licenses. Of course, we are also talking about how to improve the deer population as well, but that is more of a long-term strategy while license allocation is something that could be done as early as this year, depending on the option.
Instead of addressing this complicated issue in-depth at the regular fall district advisory meetings, we decided to hold a series of focused "deer management" meetings across the state this winter. Those meetings will take place later this month, starting on February 17. The complete schedule is listed on page 6 of this issue.
We are hoping for good public participation at these meetings, and for anyone who cannot attend we are going to provide a version of our presentation on our website. We are also encouraging comments and questions via email, phone, letter or online form well into March.
We'll need to make a decision by April 1 on whether we are going to make any changes, and if we are, whether we can accomplish them in 2014, or would have to wait until next year.
We need public participation to help us develop good policy. When we switched to the preference point system 20 years ago, it actually took two years from the time we first started looking at options for change, until we identified what we thought was the best solution for the long term.
I encourage everyone who has an interest in North Dakota deer hunting to attend one of our meetings, or let us know what you're thinking.