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North Dakota pronghorn population surges after dismal years

July 31, 2018

FILE - In this undated file photo, pronghorns run through a field near Bismarck, N.D. North Dakota's Game and Fish Department is more than doubling the number of pronghorn hunting licenses in 2018. Big game management supervisor Bruce Stillings says an aerial survey indicated the pronghorn population is up 57 percent from 2017. (Brian Gehring/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department is more than doubling the number of pronghorn licenses this year, a dramatic turnaround from earlier this decade when the hunting season was canceled four straight years due to low animal numbers.

The agency will make 1,075 licenses available for the fall hunt in 10 hunting units, up from 410 licenses in five units last year.

“Our recently completed aerial survey indicated the pronghorn population is up 57 percent from last year,” said Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor for Game and Fish.

A string of harsh winters that decimated the pronghorn population led to hunting being banned from 2010 through 2013 to allow the animals to recover. No hunting, milder winters in recent years and better fawn production and survival since 2013 “have resulted in the population reaching a level that is able to support a higher harvest this fall,” Stillings said.

Hunting of the animals that resemble the African antelope is popular in North Dakota, with thousands of hunters applying each year for licenses that are doled out through a lottery process. Hunting took a blow last year when licenses were cut nearly in half due to a tough winter followed by summer drought.

Wildlife officials feared the dry conditions might continue into this summer and further impact the population, but the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows only 1 percent of the state in drought.

“In the majority of North Dakota the dry conditions did not persist, and pronghorn range did receive pretty good moisture for much of the spring and summer, so everything turned out quite well,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.

Game and Fish is accepting license applications through Aug. 8. This year’s bow season is Aug. 31-Sept. 23. The gun season is Oct. 5-21.

Eight-seven percent of hunters who got a lottery license for last year’s season bagged a pronghorn, much higher than the 80 percent threshold that Game and Fish considers a good year, according to Stillings.

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