BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — More than 53,000 people are expected to head into the fields for the opener of this year’s deer gun season — and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is encouraging people to have a safe and successful hunt. However, it’s important to enjoy the season within reason — and as the state’s Game Wardens make quite clear, cutting corners or breaking rules can be a very costly endeavor in regards to both money and experience.

Cory Erck is a Game Warden who serves with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and is once again anticipating a busy opening weekend for deer season — even if not everyone who participates is fully focused on the thrill of the kill alone. While the season always brings in massive crowds, Erck admits that the field won’t be quite as crowded by noon on Friday — and of the nearly 70 thousand people who applied for a deer tag, only around 53,400 lucked out and received one.

“Sometimes, you just have to go where the calls take you,” Erck states. “Opening weekend can be very busy. A lot of deer hunters don’t necessarily put their success on if they get a deer or not — It’s being with family and friends, and being in the field. Sometimes, the harvesting of a deer is just an added bonus.”

Erck says most hunters he visits practice common sense, dressing in the required blaze orange. and also utilize cell phones as an easy way to discover legal shooting times. However, in the past, he has also needed to cite hunters for not tagging their kills, or for driving while carrying loaded firearms. No party hunting is allowed this year, either, which means that every hunter is responsible for shooting and harvesting his or her own deer.

“Most of them are decent honest hunters that enjoy doing what I enjoy doing on my days off,” Erck said. “If it’s one or two minutes after the shooting time, that may be difficult to enforce, but that person may get a written warning. The law says you’re supposed to immediately tag it, but it’s not uncommon. People will forego tagging so they can keep hunting.”

Erck also notes that Game Wardens often use their own discretion, and that mistakes can happen — even if that mistake takes the form of a hunter with a doe tag mistakenly shooting a small buck.

“Technically,” he says, “it would be a violation. What we tell people is to call us and self-report it. You’ll still need to immediately tag the deer. It would be a far more serious violation to shoot the deer and walk away from it than to take the wrong sex or species.”

Erck says that if such an incident happens, a hunter may receive a written warning. Another not-so-pleasant aspect of his job is sometimes having to play referee for disputes between private landowners and hunters. However, he also states that it’s important for hunters to remember that both sides have rights, even when tracking a wounded animal.

“The law allows you to retrieve the deer off of posted land,” Erck explains. “You can’t enter the land with your firearm — at that point, you’d be deemed to be hunting. You’d leave your firearm outside the property, and then you can walk in. It applies to other game as well.”

This year’s 53,400 tags are the fewest number of deer tags issued since 2016, when the Game and Fish Department only issued 49,000 deer licenses. Last year, wardens wrote tickets to 58 people for hunting on posted land without permission, and to 48 people they found with a loaded gun in a vehicle.