By Nick Simonson
Like most states in the upper Midwest, North Dakota’s firearms deer season is designed to span the most likely stretch of the rutting period, which usually happens during the month of November. However, unlike a lot of those states, North Dakota’s season is 16-and-a-half-days long. In Minnesota, the season is 16 days, or 9 in southern slug country, opening just before first light on a Saturday. In South Dakota it’s 16 days, opening on a Saturday as well. While Montana’s general gun season may span a stretch of 35 days, North Dakota remains the only state in the group with that odd little tag of a half day on the front end, starting this Friday, Nov. 10, at noon.
In fact, in all of North Dakota’s other deer hunting seasons – archery, youth and muzzleloader – the start time is noon on a Friday. As deer movement at the height of midday is generally limited, the question often asked by hunters is: “why does the season start and run for that extra half day?”
According to North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) Outreach Biologist, Doug Leier, the reasoning for the opening half-day of deer season is not readily accessible in written department lore, but like Native American tribal tales, has been passed on through casual discussion, at least with him.
“The chatter throughout the course of history is that it gives people an extra half day, where they could leave after work on Thursday and head home, and have time to get up and get ready on Friday,” Leier related, “the tradition with deer hunting in North Dakota isn’t about where you live, it’s about where you’re from,” he continued.
His recounting of tradition factoring into the season’s extra half day was confirmed by Jeb Williams, Wildlife Division Chief at the NDG&F. Williams stated that after much experimentation with season length by the department in the 1980s – from 16-and-a-half, to nine-and-a-half – it became law that the season would open on Friday, and the half day was instituted by the legislature sometime in the late 1980s to afford travel time and family togetherness.
“[Deer hunting] is a family-oriented hunt, and the noon start gives people a chance to get together in the morning,” said Williams, “it is in state law that the season does have to open on a Friday, and it has to be at noon, and that [family aspect] played into the legislative intent,” he concluded.
Williams related that the noon start time carried over with the setting of season dates for the other deer seasons in North Dakota, and has remained consistent for many years. This year the deer firearms season affords even more togetherness, as the final weekend runs concurrent with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This is a result of the NDG&F policy of setting the season so that it starts on the Friday prior to the Veteran’s Day holiday, to avoid conflict with that observance. This year with Veteran’s Day falling on a Saturday, it resulted in the firearms deer season having its latest possible start. In turn, the final weekend of the season falls as late as it can in November.
“Generally, people really like how late the season runs in years like this; we’re deeper into the rut, and they can combine Thanksgiving with a four-day hunt, it fits into the schedule very well,” Williams explained, adding that this year’s deer firearms season is very popular with hunters, “I get a lot of people telling me in years like this: ‘I sure love it when it runs though Thanksgiving.’”
Among the traditions that run deep in deer hunting, perhaps none is more important than the togetherness of family and friends gathering at hunting camp or the family farm on familiar lands that have been hunted for generations. The extra half day allotted to firearms season – and all deer seasons in North Dakota – can be attributed to that tradition, whether in the passing of storied lore between hunters and agency staff to the examination of the season formulas inked in state code and applied by the department. 54,500 hunters allotted tags this season will undoubtedly make the most of the unique experience on Friday and savor the extra half-day of excitement for exactly those same reasons, whether they know it or not.
(Featured Photo: Twice the fun with an extra half day. A pair of whitetail does stop along a deer trail. Simonson Photo)