Deer Hunting in North Dakota

November 7, 2011 

by Doug Leier

Eighty years ago, during the fall of 1931, Herbert Hoover was President, the Dick Tracy comic strip debuted, and what is often considered the beginning of North Dakota’s modern day deer season began.

Hoover, Tracy and deer aren’t related, but together they serve to illustrate how much time has passed since the first North Dakota deer season.

Deer hunting in North Dakota Here’s a bit from the November 1931 North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine: “From November 16th and 20th inclusive, the season will be open on deer in North Dakota. Roughly speaking, this open season will prevail only in the Big Missouri River bottoms, as the Game and Fish Commissioner has recommended to the Governor that the Turtle Mountain area be closed to deer hunting this fall … Hunting on islands in the Missouri River is illegal.”

While North Dakota allowed hunting of deer prior to 1931, this year is a benchmark for a couple of reasons. It was the first year the Game and Fish Department issued a  specific deer license, as in previous years when deer were legal game they were just included as part of a regular hunting license.

Second, the deer season was only open two years from 1913 through 1930. In 1931, the first modern deer season wasn’t a springboard to follow-up seasons right away. Seasons continued off and on until 1954 when they became an annual event.

Currently, a North Dakota adult regular deer license is $20. In 1931, licenses sold for

$5, and hunters were allowed to only shoot bucks. “The law permits the harvest of one antlered deer during the open season … The harvest of ‘spike’ bucks and does is prohibited. Look for the horns before you shoot. In spite of the many wild rumors to the contrary, comparatively few does and fawns were harvested. In fact, in view of the number of hunters in the field, the harvest of illegal deer was smaller than the normal average experienced by other states, a fine tribute to the North Dakota sportsmen.”

Today, for the most part, hunters expect a statewide success rate above 65 percent, which translates to around 70,000 deer taken. Compare that to the 1931 season, which was considered a success with estimates of the number of deer taken ranging from 400 to 800 animals.

Given that historical perspective, we shouldn’t feel too bad about the reduction in North Dakota deer licenses over the past few years. After three consecutive tough winters, we still have more than 100,000 licenses this year.

In terms of tradition I’m sure many deer camps can draw on decades of routine, while others are just getting started. For any group, the get-together is part of the reason why this November tens of thousands of hunters will convene on the annual “Friday holiday” of the deer opener.

Thankfully, we’re afforded an opportunity to take the field. While not every hunter drew the exact license he or she wanted in the unit they desired, but if a hunter wanted an opportunity, there were was an ample supply of more than 106,000 licenses, compared to the first modern deer season when less than 2,100 licenses were sold.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:


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