North Dakota Deer Population  About 367,000 deer in 2021 with 21,000 mule deer in the Badlands.  The hard 2022-23 winter reduced populations which are down from about 500,000 in the mid-2000s.  In 2022 a stable to decreasing whitetail population and stable to increasing mule deer. In 2018 through 2021, a stable to modestly increasing whitetail deer population and recovering mule deer.  In 2017 the population was increasing in the western two-thirds of the state, down to stable in the eastern third, however, drought conditions into the fall.  The mild winter of 2017-18 improved survival, but allowed drought conditions to persist.  Data analysis in right column.

North Dakota Deer News

Wildlife Crossings May 12, 2023 North Dakota Outdoors

...  on U.S. Highway 85 south of the Long X Bridge ... This crossing experienced 386 and 989 mule deer approaching the crossing in 2021 and 2022 with a successful crossing rate of 91% and 93% ... “Our current elk monitoring program with the GPS collars is indicating that elk want to cross just south of the badlands area on Highway 85,” ...

2023 ND deer season set with about 10,000 fewer licenses May 6, 2023 North Dakota, KFYR

... Whitetail deer populations were slowly heading in the right direction after the winters of 2009, ‘10, ‘11, but the combination of a major EHD Outbreak in 2021 in central North Dakota and this year’s extreme winter conditions impacted their populations..,

Game and Fish announces drastic cut in deer licenses May 5, 2023 North Dakota, Grand Forks Herald

... The state's deer population is decreasing, especially in eastern hunting units...“The severity of winter conditions this year was record setting, particularly in the eastern half of the state,” .., see the state press release

Mule Deer Survey Completed May 1, 2023 North Dakota Game and Fish

... The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual mule deer survey, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population is 29% lower than last year and 5% below the long-term average..,

Habitat a focus of Game and Fish Department presentation on deer numbers April 29, 2023 North Dakota, YAHOO!News

...White-tailed deer numbers declined in nearly every part of the state. In the Red River Valley ... whitetail counts in Unit 2C north of Grand Forks were down 29.3% from 2022 ...Numbers in Unit 2B, an area extending roughly from Grand Forks to Fargo, were down 47.5%.  Whitetail numbers in Unit 2A in the far southeast corner of the state declined 26.5%..,

Follow-up survey paints dire picture of winter impact on deer in North Dakota April 22, 2023 North Dakota, Grand Forks Herald

... April 7, when the North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducted a second aerial survey of deer hunting unit 2J2 west of Jamestown and north of Interstate 94 ... a 51% reduction in white-tailed deer ... an 84% drop in mule deer numbers ..,

North Dakota 2022 Deer Season Summarized April 18, 2023 North Dakota Game and Fish

... A total of 47,590 North Dakota deer hunters took approximately 25,093 deer during the 2022 deer gun hunting season, according to a post-season survey conducted by the state Game and Fish Department.

     Game and Fish made available 64,200 deer gun licenses last year. Overall hunter success was 53%, with each hunter spending an average of 4.4 days in the field.  “The lower success was due, in part, to deteriorating weather conditions during the beginning of the season,” ..,

ND Senate kills deer baiting bill April 5, 2023 North Dakota, KFYR-TV

... As the law stands, Game and Fish can prohibit hunters from baiting big game animals. This bill would’ve taken that ability away from Game and Fish...

     Deer Baiting Bill Heats Up March 17, 2023 North Dakota,The Dakotan

... The bill that has elicited more written testimony than any other in the current session of the State Legislature, HB1151 ... seeks to prohibit the North Dakota Game and Fish Department from banning baiting for deer...

Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep Applications Online March 16, 2023 North Dakota Game and Fish

... A total of 603 elk licenses are available to hunters this fall, an increase of 40 from last year. Licenses in units E1E and E1W increased due to a stable to increasing elk population. Licenses in elk units E2, E3, E4 and E6 remain the same as in 2022.  A total of 257 moose licenses are available, a decrease of 147 from last year..,

Habitat is the key to North Dakota wildlife populations March 14, 2023 Grand Forks Herald

... Today, with just roughly 1 million CRP acres on the landscape in North Dakota, the number of pheasants and deer have declined, as well... bountiful populations 15 years ago, when there were 3-plus-million Conservation Reserve Program acres on the landscape..,

North Dakota CWD Test Results March 13, 2023 NDGF News

... With most chronic wasting disease testing completed, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department reported 24 deer from the 2022 hunting season tested positive ..,

North Dakota House passes big game baiting bill February 22, 2023 The Bismarck Tribune

... would prevent North Dakota’s wildlife managers from imposing bans on hunting big game over bait on private property has cleared the House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate.  House Bill 1151 passed Tuesday in a 76-18 vote ...

Rough Start to Winter for Wildlife February 1, 2023 North Dakota, The Dakotan

... Initial losses of some deer this winter, he said, were the result of “grain overload”, a condition where people want to assist deer struggling to find feed in the winter. “All of a sudden they over-eat on a high carbohydrate feed that causes death,” ...

If you care about hunting, oppose legislation taking away the state's ability to regulate deer baiting February 2, 2023 North Dakota, informum

... in the hunting tradition I grew up in, baiting animals is anathema. It's not considered sporting ... Deer baiting restrictions are sometimes imposed "as a way to slow down the spread of disease," Dr. Charlie Bahnson, a wildlife veterinarian ...

Deer Baiting Bill January 24, 2023 North Dakota, The Dakotan

... HB 1151 – Baiting deer for hunting not prohibited... The first hearing for HB1151 before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee was standing room only. People from all across the state came to testify for and against...

Baiting ban opponents, wildlife officials debate bill to forbid bans January 23, 2023 North Dakota, InForum

...  Game and Fish restricts baiting hunting units if they fall within 25 miles of a CWD detection zone in North Dakota or a surrounding state or province. Wildlife officials say baiting causes deer to concentrate more closely than they do naturally in winter, potentially furthering the spread of disease...

Bill would allow party hunting for deer in North Dakota January 21, 2023 YAHOO!News

... HB 1377 ... "Any member of a party of 10 or fewer may take or kill the number of deer which is equal to the number of valid deer licenses held by the participating members of the party...

Bill would stop officials from banning deer baiting in North Dakota January 16, 2023 The Bismarck Tribune

... House Bill 1151  ... Thomas said he and others value a healthy deer herd, but that “there’s no sound proof” that baiting increases the spread of diseases such as chronic wasting disease or CWD, which state wildlife officials say is poised to spread exponentially in the state ...

2022 in Review, January, 2023.  North Dakota Outdoor Magazine

... EHD is a fatal disease that mostly affects white-tailed deer and it impacted our whitetail herd in 2021 to a magnitude that we’d never seen...The region that was most affected appeared to center around the Missouri River corridor...  EHD was a non-issue in 2022 and our whitetail population has started to rebound in those areas most affected last year..,

Hunting and Fishing Legislation January 4, 2022 North Dakota Game and Fish Department

   The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will track hunting and fishing issues during the 2023 legislative session.  Outdoor enthusiasts can follow proposed outdoors-related bills by visiting the Game and Fish website, The webpage will be updated daily as legislation is introduced and bills progress through the session. A brief description of each bill will be included. To view the bill in its entirety, click on the linked bill number.

Fatal to whitetails, EHD can affect testosterone levels in mule deer bucks  December 17, 2022 North Dakota, YAHOO!News

... epizootic hemorrhagic disease ... Hunters in western North Dakota and other parts of the West have reported shooting mule deer bucks with antlers still in velvet late in the fall, Weston said; in other cases, bucks have missing or shrunken testicles...

Habitat is the key for all wildlife populations November 30, 2022 North Dakota, KFGO

... “We’re focusing primarily on developing good  winter cover, like trees, and grasslands that provide cover during warmer months for adult does having fawns.” said Kevin Kading ... This habitat being planted on PLOTS lands benefits deer and other animals ...

New units see baiting banned in 2022 ND deer season November  November 28, 2022 North Dakota, KFYR-TV 

...  The agency bans baiting in select units to reduce chronic wasting disease... Currently, there are 20 units with bait banned due to CWD cases...

Video below:  Deer gun season opens at noon on Friday, November 4. Find out how the season is shaping up in this week's North Dakota Outdoors. - October 27, 2022

North Dakota Hunting Season Outlook for 2022 September 13, 2022 NDGF

... Population and harvest data indicate the state's deer population is stable to decreasing and below management goals, primarily in the east ... Due to very dry conditions, a delay in the first month of frost, a significant epizootic hemorrhagic disease die-off of white-tailed deer numbers along the Missouri River.   There was a decline in licenses allocated ... A stable to increasing mule deer population ..,

Fargo's Wildlife Management Program likely to continue with some changes September 8, 2022 KFGO

... Last year, it appeared the 16-year program was going to end. The police department has been overseeing the program for years and Police Chief Dave Zibolski said the hunt was an “unnecessary public safety risk.” ....

More and Larger Muleys a Possibility for Fall | News Dakota September 1, 2022  North Dakota,

... Surveys by the agency confirmed that fact this spring, as tallies showed a modest increase in populations. While overall mule deer fawn production was down in 2021 ... spring mule deer counts and they were up about 13 percent from 2021 ... In contrast to last summer, fawning efforts seemed to have gone over well with lush conditions in the badlands following the spring precipitation ..,

Big Game Transport Rules August 25, 2022 North Dakota Game and Fish

     Big game hunters should note requirements for transporting deer, elk and moose carcasses and carcass parts into and within North Dakota, as a precaution against the possible spread of chronic wasting disease...

North Dakota wildlife officials update strategy as chronic wasting disease becomes bigger threat August 19, 2022 The Bismarck Tribune

... disease that took root in the state 13 years ago and is now poised to spread exponentially... confirmations in the 10-year span from 2009 to 2018 totaled only 14 ... Confirmations now total 70, and the disease appears to be spreading in western North Dakota in two directions ..,

'At first she acted like a dog:' Steele County family treats injured fawn August 5, 2022 North Dakota, Grand Forks Herald

...  On her inner thigh, she had a bunch of gouges taken out ...The Benders rescued the fawn, fed it, bandaged its injuries and nursed it back to health. That went on for a few days. The deer was free to roam around the farmyard and leave if she wanted to, but she and the other animals became fast friends...

A Tearful Update On A North Dakota Favorite: "Jonnie" The Deer August 2, 2022  SuperTalk 1270

... Jonnie, the tame deer that was a fixture for numerous farms south of Sterling and over to Braddock has not been seen since late January ... The Fallgatters raised Jonnie as a very young fawn as her mother and sibling were hit and killed by a car.  Jonnie was also injured in that accident and suffered a broken leg...

Deer License Numbers Fall - EHD to Blame July 13, 2022 North Dakota, NDGFD News

...  reduction of 8,000 deer tags compared to 2021 ...In 2021, amid significant drought conditions that hamstrung much, if not all, of the state, the Game and Fish Department received its first report on Aug. 1 of deer dying from epizootic hemorrhagic disease near Mandan... he EHD outbreak in 2021 is on par with the worst year that we’ve witnessed in terms of EHD attributed mortality,” said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, Game and Fish Department wildlife veterinarian...

Habitat holds the key to keeping wildlife on the landscape in North Dakota June 28, 2022 INFORUM

... A central North Dakota deer study concluded that fawns select bed sites consisting of native grasslands and CRP more than 70% of the time. The study also concluded that continued loss of native grasslands and CRP will reduce available vegetation for fawn bed site selection ...

ND Game and Fish holds Deer Gun License Lottery June 23, 2022 North Dakota,  KX NEWS

... More than 71,000 individuals have already applied for a deer gun license, this year, not including over 13,600 gratis applicants. The 2022 proclamation regarding deer gun licenses allows for 64,200 ...

A comparison of mixed‐mode survey designs for collecting deer and fall turkey harvest data in North Dakota - Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2022

... We found that internet-mail and mail-internet treatments resulted in significantly higher response rates than a traditional mail-only survey mode. We also found that hunters who successfully harvested an animal were more likely to return questionnaires shortly after the initial wave of surveying. Finally, we found that older, nonresident, and urban hunters were more likely to return questionnaires. Our research demonstrates potential use of tailored mixed-mode surveys to increase response rates...

Mild winter helps mule deer population; April blizzards might impact fawning June 13, 2022 North Dakota, The Bismarck Tribune

... The state Game and Fish Department's annual spring survey indicates the mule deer population is 13% higher than last year and 34% above the long-term average...  mild winter in North Dakota’s mule deer territory helped balance out the effects of devastating drought last summer and fall.., 

North Dakota Spring Mule Deer Survey Complete May 23, 2022 NDGFD News

... “The spring index was higher than 2021 despite having very poor fawn production,” Stillings said. “Although fawn production was low due to extreme drought, habitat in the badlands was still in a condition able to provide high over-winter survival, leading to a slight population increase in 2022.” ..,

Deer disease in North Dakota cuts into hunter success, license numbers  May 13, 2022 The Bismarck Tribune

...  The impact of the disease stretched over most of western and central North Dakota ... North Dakota has experienced a loss of wildlife habitat in recent years due to oil development and reduced grassland areas resulting from changes in farming practices. That has resulted in annual license numbers essentially being cut in half from the heyday of deer populations in the mid-2000s..,

North Dakota Deer Season Set, Apply Online May 6, 2022 North Dakota Game and Fish News

... North Dakota’s 2022 deer season is set, with 64,200 licenses available to hunters, down 8,000 from last year... “Epizootic hemorrhagic disease dramatically reduced white-tailed deer numbers along the Missouri River and parts of some western hunting units,” said Casey Anderson, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “As a result, license allocations in some units were dramatically reduced.” ..,

North Dakota 2021 Gun Season Summarized April 20, 2022 NDGF News

... A total of 57,086 North Dakota deer hunters took approximately 32,793 deer during the 2021 deer gun hunting season, according to a post-season survey conducted by the state Game and Fish Department.  Game and Fish made available 72,200 deer gun licenses last year. Overall hunter success was 57%, with each hunter spending an average of 4.5 days in the field..,

North Dakota Game and Fish completes aerial winter deer surveys March 13, 2022 KFYR TV 

...“Compared to 2019, it’s about the same for the most part, it’s kind of a mixed bag, some units are up, some are down, and most of them are about the same. However, when you look back to the early 2000s, 2000 to 2005 we are considerably lower than those years, primarily due to habitat loss,” ...

New Dakota Deer News and Information Archive by TopicPopulation and Management, Deer in the News, Disease, Suburban, Transportation

Column Contents

North Dakota Deer Population

The hard winter of 2022-23 reduced deer populations in April by up to 84% in some regions based on aerial surveys. The 2022 season outlook from North Dakota Game and Fish indicates the population is "stable to decreasing and below management goals, primarily in eastern hunting units."  In 2022 the herd was rebounding from the previous EHD outbreak. The mule deer population was higher in the mid-2022 survey after a mild 2021-22 winter, but the whitetail population was stable to decreasing prior to the 2022 hunt.  A population decline in 2022 and fewer hunting licenses allocated. “Epizootic hemorrhagic disease dramatically reduced white-tailed deer numbers along the Missouri River and parts of some western hunting units.” 

 The data for the chart above.  The state estimates population levels only for mule deer in the Badlands, their primary range, but not for whitetail deer, the large majority of deer.  The population estmate of 367,000 total deer in 2021 is a rough estimate relying on hunting data: the deer kill adjusted for the number of licenses sold and assuming the percent of the deer population taken by hunters is about the same as in South Dakota in recent years.  This approach gives an estimate compatible with the one research report found for North Dakota estimating about 500,000 whitetails around 2010 and the narrative related to deer populations below.  North Dakota manages deer tags to maintain a good hunter success percentage. The state estimated 21,000 mule deer in the badlands in 2021 and 23,300 in 2022.

The 2021, 2020, and 2019 outlook reports a "stable to increasing population."  For 2019 and 2020 other sources report the population is trending up, particularly in the western part of the state.   About the same to slowly increasing in 2021 with mild winters improving deer conditions, but drought in much of the state reduced fawn survival in 2021.  An EHD outbreak killed a large number of deer in 2020 and drought in 2021.  In 2020, 81,000 applied for 69,050 deer gun lottery licenses.  Guns licenses increased to 72,200 in 2021.

The state estimated the mule deer population in the badlands, their primary habitat, each year from 2015 for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  Estimates for prior years are based on the state's spring population indexes.  The data.  

In 2018 through 2020, a stable to increasing white-tailed deer population and recovering mule deer.  A mild 2019-20 winter.  In 2019 mule deer numbers in western North Dakota are down from 2018, but 14 percent above the long term average.  A slow state-wide recovery of deer from severe winters in 2009 through 2011 and a downward population trend from 2010 to 2015. The deer population peaked in the mid-2000s

In 2016 whitetail numbers were good south and west of the Missouri River, but lower in the east.  Into 2017 the population was increasing in the western two-thirds of the state, down to stable in the eastern third.  In 2018 a stable to increasing white-tailed deer population and recovering mule deer.   For 2018 there were 55,150 gun licenses issued, more than 113,000 applied.  Season outlooks for 2018, 2017 abd 2016.

Deer survived the harsh 2016-17 winter better than expected because of an early spring. Drought conditions into the fall 2017 also had limited impact on deer survival.  The mild winter of 2017-18 improved deer survival but did not allow for enough water to replenish some streams that dried up during the drought.

Habitat has been destroyed for cropland, reducing deer populations. In 2016 "Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the State Game and Fish Department, said population and harvest data indicate the state’s deer population is stable to increasing, primarily due to seven years of reduced gun licenses combined with mild winters."  In 2016 102,000 applied for a deer tag, only 49,000 were issued, down from more than 100,000 from 2001 to 2011. Mule deer populations continued to recover from the harsh winters of 2008-10.  

About 350,000 deer in 2015.   A 2015 spring survey of western North Dakota showed a 24 percent increase in the mule deer population of the Badlands after a few mild winters bringing the count to 2376, or 7.8 per square mile of the 306.3 square miles in the Badlands where the survey was conducted.  Mule deer anterless tags were restricted in an effort to increase the population. 

Hard winters from 2010 to 2015.  In 2015 about 36,407 deer were taken by 64,382 hunters.  Hunter success rate of 68 percent in 2015,  60 percent in 2014, 55 percent in  2013.   The number of deer tags were reduced to 48,000 in 2014, also a 30 year low, and 59,500 in 2013, a 40 percent reduction in 2012 to help the herd rebound. 

Deer herds in the northeast suffrered rough 2013 winter complicated by a decline in habitat. A doe carrying the first quadruplet fawns documented in the state died in 2012.  In 2011 the department managemen goal was to have a deer population that could support 125,000 licesenses, but only 110,000 were issued.

The deer population rose to a recent record level around 2007.  In the mid-2000s the state had unusually mild winters and good habitat conditions, but severe winters for 2008-09 to 2010-11.  A population estimate for whitetails at 500,000 reported in 2010.  The state issued 150,000 deer tags in 2007 to reduce the population.  More than 140,000 deer licenses were issued in 2009.  Habitat loss has further reduced the deer herd, particularly in the northern Red River Valley.  

Two million acres of land had been lost from the Conservation Reserve Program, the oil boom has disrupted habitat.  Western mule deer populations rebounded in 2013, but declined in the east.

The continuing loss of habitat will put downward pressure on deer populations into the future.  Grasslands are needed for nesting.  Mild winters have supported deer populations in the southwest, but epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) reduced white-tail populations in the Bowman to Bismark area.. Mule deer doe tags have been restricted in an effort to boost the population.  Deer populations are below target in most of the state. The state issued 43,275 deer licenses in 2014, the fewest since 1978.  About 90,000 deer hunters in the state.  

The number of licenses issued is typically targeted to provide a 70 percent hunter success rate.   Deer gun hunter success was 60 percent in 2014, was 55 percent in 2013 and archery success was 33 percent.  The new five year plan calls for increasing license sales to provide 124,800 deer gun licenses, about 25 percent over the 2005 goal.  

White-tail deer in North Dakota migrate an average of 3.8 miles from winter to summer habitat. Some migrate very little.  Mule deer density in the badlands was 6.3 per square mile in 2014, 5.3 in 2013, up from 4.6 in 2012, but below the long-term average of 6.8. The buck-to-doe ratio of 0.46 in 2013, 0.37 in 2012, and the long-term average is 0.43 -- a higher ratio and more robust herd than in some states to the west such as California. Deer populations had been rising in the early to mid 2000's. 


In 1915 deer populations in North Dakota were nearly extinct, due to over hunting. The state suspended deer hunting to preserve the herd until 1931 when about 2,000 licenses were sold.   During seven years of the next 20, seasons were closed. An estimated deer population of 7,000 to 8,000 in 1941.  About 10,000 in 1945.  The state issued 41,000 licences in 1952 then closed the season again in 1953.  The Conservation Reserve Program helped the herd grow.  The population was relatively stable in the 1960s and 70s.  

In their 2021 report to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife agencies the state wrote "North Dakota’s badlands mule deer population showed an increasing trend with high fawn production from 1990-2007. Mule deer fawn production was typically greater than 90 fawns:100 does during these years. Winter weather conditions were mild during this time period except in 1996. Mule deer numbers peaked in 2005-2007. Following this population peak, North Dakota experienced three of the most severe winters on record from 2008-2010. Consequently, mule deer abundance in the badlands decreased by 50% and reached a population low in 2012."

During the early 2000's the state issued 140,000 licenses.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

I dentified in a few deer in western Grant County since 2009, two in 2013.  A total of nine through early  2017.  Eleven into early 2018.  A total of 14 into early 2019.  The first deer to die of chronic wasting disease and reported to have symptons was found near Williston in late February of 2019.  During the 2020 hunting season, 18 positives, bringing the total to 44 positives.  In the 2021 season, 26 positives with CWD on a family farm.  By August, 2022, 70 positives in total.  In the 2022-23 season, 24 positives.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)

 An outbreak in 2021.  Significant outbreaks of EHD in 2020 and 2011.


Hunted to extinction in the early part of the 1900's, reintroduced from other states in 1942.


Rare in the early 1900's as a result of overhunting.  Recently brain worm has contributed to the decline of the population in the eastern part of the state.


An estimated 5,500 pronghorn in 2015;  5,700  in 2014, hunting had been closed since 2009 due to the small population but reopened in some areas in 2014. About 2,800 in 2012. Once abundant, only about 200 pronghorns in the 1920's.

Mountain Lions 

Uncommon across early North Dakota.  There is a population in the badlands.  The population size has not been estimated, but in 2016 lion hunting quotas were lowered for the first time.