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A Short History of Deer in North Dakota

It is deer season in North Dakota. There were more than 72,000 deer gun permits available in 2021, more than 64,000 in 2022, and around 53,000 this fall. The number of permits varies, of course, due to changes in the populations.

That is a lot of deer — but it has not always been that way. The historical range for whitetail deer in North Dakota was largely limited to wooded areas such as those along the Missouri and Little Missouri rivers, Mouse River, Turtle Mountain, and Pembina Hills, around Devils Lake, and the James, Sheyenne, and Red rivers.

In his 1926 A Biological Survey of North Dakota, Arthur Bailey noted that mule deer apparently occupied all of North Dakota prior to European settlement. But change was in the wind, and by 1890 deer were mostly extirpated from the state.

In 1891, it became illegal to kill deer and other big game from January to August. Then in 1894 the North Dakota State Game and Fish Commission’s first biennial report noted that there were few deer left, and suggested that they might warrant protection.

Deer season was then closed in 1915 and remained closed until 1921, only to be closed again until 1931. Things didn’t really start to turn around until the 1940s.

Today, of course, mule deer are mostly observed south and west of the Missouri River — although they are also observed elsewhere in the state. And although whitetail deer prefer wooded habitats, they can be found across the state in a variety of habitats.

Thanks largely to efforts by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the support from hunters, landowners, and others, North Dakota now supports healthy and viable deer populations. Whether you hunt or not, take some time to consider the history of deer in North Dakota.

Source : Prairie Public Broadcasting