Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

Spring Mule Deer Survey Complete

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual spring mule deer survey in April, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population is similar to last year, and 45 percent above the long-term average.

photo by Craig Bihrle, ND     Game and Fish

 

Biologists counted 2,540 mule deer in 245.8 square miles during this year’s survey. Overall mule deer density in the badlands was 10.3 deer per square mile, compared to 10.9 in 2017.

 

Big game management supervisor Bruce Stillings said mule deer in the badlands have recovered nicely following the winters of 2009-11, which led to record low fawn production and a population index low of 4.6 mule deer per square mile in 2012.

 

“The population recovery is due to no antlerless harvest for four years combined with milder winter conditions during 2012-2016, which led to good fawn production since 2013,” Stillings said. “However, the long-term health of the population will depend on maintaining high quality habitat. Rangeland conditions are in tough shape in the badlands due to drought conditions, and could have a negative impact on fawn production this summer.”

 

The 2018 survey results show that hunting opportunities, according to Stillings, can increase slightly in all badlands units except 4A, which has been slower to recover than the rest of the badlands units. “There are localized areas that have very high mule deer densities and have exceeded landowner tolerance levels,” Stillings said.

 

The spring mule deer survey is used to assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. It is conducted after the snow has melted and before the trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation of deer. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.

Midwinter Waterfowl Survey

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual midwinter waterfowl survey in early January indicated about 135,000 Canada geese in the state.

 

Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist, said that number likely would have been higher, but cold weather in late December undoubtedly pushed some birds south just prior to the survey.

 

“However, we still saw a significant increase in the number of birds, as compared to the 26,400 that were recorded last year,” Dinges said. “A year ago, wintering conditions with heavy snowfall were highly unfavorable, which dramatically reduced access to waste grain.”

 

During the recent survey, an estimated 110,800 Canada geese were observed on the Missouri River, and another 24,000 on Nelson Lake in Oliver County. No waterfowl were recorded on Lake Sakakawea, which officially froze over just days before the survey. Dinges said after summarizing the numbers, an additional 16,400 mallards were tallied statewide, most of which were recorded on Nelson Lake.

 

The 10-year average (2008-17) for the midwinter survey in North Dakota is 95,600 Canada geese and 27,300 mallards.

 

All states participate in the midwinter survey during the same time frame, so birds are not counted more than once.

North Dakota Spring Mule Deer Survey Up 21%

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual spring mule deer survey in April, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population has increased 21 percent from last year.

Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor, said the increase is a result of higher adult doe survival in 2015, three consecutive years of good fawn production, and overwinter survival combined with milder winter weather conditions.

photo by Craig Bihrle, ND     Game and Fish

“These factors, along with no harvest of antlerless mule deer during the past four deer hunting seasons, have resulted in mule deer numbers doubling since we experienced our low in 2012,” Stillings said.

Biologists counted 2,880 mule deer in 306.3 square miles during this year’s survey. Overall mule deer density in the badlands was 9.4 deer per square mile, which is up from 7.8 deer per square mile in 2015.

The spring mule deer survey is used to assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. It is conducted after the snow has melted and before the trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation of deer. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.

Fall Mule Deer Survey Completed

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s fall mule deer survey indicated the population continues to recover in the badlands.

photo by Craig Bihrle, ND     Game and Fish photo by Harold Umber, ND Game and Fish

Biologists counted 2,157 (1,958 in 2014) mule deer in the aerial survey in October. The buck-to-doe ratio of 0.42 (0.50 in 2014) is similar to the long-term average of 0.43 bucks per doe, while the fawn-to-doe ratio of 0.84 (0.95 in 2014) is slightly below the long-term average of 0.90 fawns per doe.

“The buck-to-doe ratio remains stable, and we had another year of good fawn production,” Stillings said. “Overall, the numbers are encouraging.”

While mule deer numbers look promising for the short-term, Stillings said challenges remain for continued population growth, including changes in habitat quality due to fragmentation and disturbance, predators and weather.

The fall aerial survey, conducted specifically to study demographics, covers 24 study areas and 306.3 square miles in western North Dakota. Biologists survey the same study areas in the spring of each year to determine population abundance.