North Dakota bowhunters are just two weeks away from heading out into the field to look for a deer.
But it’ll likely be a tougher hunt this year after an awful 2021 wiped out several white-tailed deer along the Missouri River basin.

Less than a month away from the start of bow season, archers in North Dakota are getting some practice in.

“There’s something about shooting with friends or shooting at targets and having a good time,” Nishu Bowmen club member Bill Helphrey said.

They’re optimistic for the fall, but members of the NISHU Bowmen club don’t need a reminder on how bad 2021 was.

“When we would walk in, you could smell it,” Bismarck resident Joe Gusaas said.

“Our veterinarian had kind of predicted this is going to be a bad one if we stay dry,” North Dakota Game and Fish wildlife division chief Casey Anderson said.

The hot dry conditions led to a spread of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or EHD. The tiny biting midge quickly infected hundreds of deer along the Missouri River.

A mature white-tail buck found dead north of Wilton in November 2021 was among several casualties of an EHD spread in units near the Missouri River.

“Usually within three to seven days, if they’re going to die from it, they die from it,” Anderson said.

“I think we pulled our cameras after about a month, month and a half,” Gusaas said. “And by that point, I’d say about 90 percent of the deer we had been seeing had disappeared.”

The Game and Fish didn’t cancel the deer season, but many hunters from the 22 units affected sent back their tags or stayed home.

“We had just over 3,000 people send them back,” Anderson said.

“And we just said, ‘we can’t shoot what’s left, because that’s the seed for the future’,” Helphrey said.

Anderson says the good news is that the deer that made it through 2021 relatively unscathed are now mostly resistant from another EHD outbreak. The not so good news is that hunters say it’ll take time for the deer to return in healthy numbers to the Missouri River bottom.

“It’s going to take at least five years, if not more, in my opinion,” Gusaas said.

“Habitat equals wildlife,” Anderson said. “So, the more habitat and better quality of habitat on the ground, the faster they’ll come back.”

For 2022, the Game and Fish Department is giving out about 64,200 deer licenses for gun season, which is about 8,000 fewer than 2021. Many bowhunters who mostly spend time along the Missouri River say they may have to try their luck in another county instead.

Deer bow season in North Dakota opens on September 2nd. Youth gun season opens two weeks later on the 16th.