The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducted its annual spring mule deer survey in April and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population increased 15 percent from last year. However, the 2013 spring mule deer index is still 22 percent lower than the long-term average.

Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor, said the increase is a result of no antlerless deer harvested in 2012, and relatively mild winter conditions across much of mule deer range.

“It’s encouraging, but challenges remain for further population growth, including changes in habitat, energy development, predators and weather patterns,” Stillings said.

The population change from 2012 was not consistent across the entire mule deer range. Stillings said hunting unit 4F in the southern portion of the badlands stayed the same, while the core mule deer range covering hunting units 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E had a healthy increase. The northernmost mule deer unit, 4A, experienced a substantial population decline.

Biologists counted 1,638 mule deer in 306.3 square miles during this year’s survey. Overall mule deer density in the badlands was 5.3 deer per square mile, which is up from 4.6 deer per square mile in 2012, but less than the long-term average of 6.8 deer per square mile.

The spring mule deer index 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.

Logo courtesy North Dakota Game and Fish Department

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