North Dakota Mule Deer Survey Completed

North Dakota Mule Deer Survey Completed

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its annual mule deer survey, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population is 1% higher than last year but 4% below the long-term average.

Biologists counted 2,047 mule deer in 286.3 square miles. The overall mule deer density in the badlands was 7.1 deer per square mile.

Bruce Stillings, department big game management supervisor, said mule deer densities remained the same compared to 2023 following last year’s record low fawn production, reduced gun harvest and a mild winter in 2023-24.

“The 2024 spring survey results were largely influenced by the 2022-23 record-setting harsh winter, which resulted in mule deer does being in poor body condition last spring and record low fawn production in 2023,” Stillings said. “This past mild winter with higher survival helped offset lack of fawns from the previous two years, which led to mule deer populations being similar to last year.”

Biologists are encouraged that last winter’s mild conditions could result in higher fawn production this summer, leading to an increased population in 2025.

Biologists counted 1,735 mule deer in the aerial survey in October to determine demographics in the badlands. The ratio of 57 fawns per 100 does was the lowest recorded since the survey began in 1964, and similar to fawn production in 2011 and 2012 (59/100) following the extreme winters of 2008-10. The 39 bucks per 100 does was similar to 2022 (40/100) and the long-term average (43/100).

The spring mule deer survey assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. It is conducted after snow melt and before 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.

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