Salmon, Mule Deer Projects Make for Busy Fall

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

Most people think of fish and wildlife surveys in terms of test-netting to determine stocking success or pheasant rooster crowing counts as an indication for prehunt bird populations, but this fall a couple of important Game and Fish Department survey results were assessed.

With so many different species and populations, space doesn’t allow us to provide all the information so here’s the latest snapshot pertaining to North Dakota’s mule deer surveys and salmon egg collection in the fall of 2021.

Mule Deer

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s fall mule deer survey indicated the drought had a big influence on fawn production.

Biologists counted 2,163 mule deer in the aerial survey in October. The ratio of 60 fawns per 100 does was significantly lower than last year (82/100) and the long-term average (88/100), while 38 bucks per 100 does was similar to 2020 (36/100) and the long-term (43/100).

“This year’s count was the lowest fawn-to-doe ratio since 2011 and 2012, following the severe winters of 2008 through 2010,” said Bruce Stillings, department big game management supervisor, Dickinson. “Nutritional stress related to the drought was also apparent with considerably more yearling bucks observed as spikes rather than forked bucks.”

Snowfall and windy conditions during the survey limited biologists to 20 of the 24 study areas, Stillings said.

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 the spring of each year to determine deer abundance.


Fisheries crews completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System, collecting more than 1.8 million eggs.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Missouri River System fisheries biologist Russ Kinzler said crews collected enough eggs to stock 400,000 smolts planned for Lake Sakakawea in 2022.

The majority of eggs were collected from Lake Sakakawea, with a significant contribution from the Missouri River below Garrison Dam. Average size of female salmon was 7.4 pounds, which is about 1 pound smaller than last year. The largest salmon this year were about 14.5 pounds, which is about 2 pounds heavier than the largest salmon last year.

“We’ve had good numbers and size of rainbow smelt, which is the primary forage for salmon in Lake Sakakawea,” Kinzler said. “That has led to some larger salmon the last couple years.”

Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish personnel capture the fish and transport them to Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery where they are relieved of their eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend about 6 months in the hatchery before being stocked in Lake Sakakawea.

To learn more about different fish and wildlife species and populations along with conservation, nongame and other information, check out the Game and Fish Department website at

Featured Photo: Mule deer survey counts were down in the fall of 2021 due to impacts from the drought. NDG&F Photo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s