By Nick Simonson
The workings of rut-influenced bucks go a bit haywire in November. Where they could be patterned in summer and early fall, their daily mechanics go out the window when the breeding season hits and they’re driven by natural instincts to do their part in begetting the next generation. The same can be said for the functionality of a rifle. Where everything cycles smoothly in the calm and warmth of a September sight-in at the range, in the rush of adrenaline those transient bucks bring to a cold pre-winter moment, actions jam, scopes blur and things may not quite go according to plan.
One step on the path in getting to that November excitement, however, is down to a science, and that is the process by which North Dakota’s unique lottery for firearms deer tags plays out via digital selection. Applications are now completed online and can be submitted via smart device, computer, or for those without access to the internet, they can be completed by calling 701-328-6300 and selecting the licensing option from 8 am to 5 pm when prompted. With the application closing date of June 8 just a few boxes away on the calendar, Licensing Manager Randy Meissner of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) is gearing up for the firearms deer lottery as the last applications come in before the deadline and hunters select their desired unit and species for the season.
“You’re allowed a first and a second hunting unit choice and within each of those units you can pick a first and second species or deer choice. It seems to be easier for people to understand and just think of them as a first, second, third and fourth choice; it’s just your first two and your last two have to be within one unit,” Meissner explains of the basics of each application.
To issue as many first-unit, first-choice tags as possible, the NDG&F runs the lottery program and begins randomly drawing applicants from the pool of entries. If the first-unit, first-choice selection on the application is available from the pool of licenses, that firearms deer tag is awarded to the applicant, and the tag and applicant is removed from the remaining licenses in that unit and the program moves on to the next randomly drawn application, repeating the process. The program issues as many first-unit, first-choice tags as possible. Those who are drawn but their first-unit, first-choice is not available are re-entered into the pool of applicants and the program begins assigning first-unit, second-choice tags as they match up with the applicant’s desires and what remains available. The process then repeats for the second-unit, first-choice and finally second-unit, second-choice until all remaining applicants are processed.
Not Party Time?
“In the example of a party, it gets to be just a little more complicated in the fact where we try to issue all of the first choices in a party. If some people put down different deer choices for the individual party members, there’s a chance that one deer choice might be available but another would not be. With a party application, either everybody in the party is successful, or nobody is successful. So, then what it does is that it rejects all of the first choices in the party even though some of them were available, one of them was not. If one person isn’t able to get that first choice, the whole party moves into the second choice drawing [for the first unit],” Meissner explains of the party-based application process.
Predominantly, Meissner sees as a general trend that most applicants apply in the same units year after year. While they may change up their deer choices, many hunters stay in the areas they’re familiar with. Anecdotally, this is due to having access to certain hunting areas, having family connections, or simply the draw of nostalgia hunting in the same spaces each season. Currently, the expansion of deer units with chronic wasting disease (CWD) present in them, or those surrounding them, do not appear to be influencing the number of applicants a great deal.
North Dakota’s unique bonus point process helps increase unsuccessful applicants’ odds down the road, but the points allotted carry with them some mystery as well, and according to Meissner, those numbers of points often represent a far greater number of entries in the firearms deer lottery. Hunters are awarded a bonus point when they do not receive their first-unit, first-choice selection on their application. That individual may receive a bonus point even if he or she does draw a tag in one of the three remaining back-up selections, as long as it was not in the first-unit, first-choice selection. From there, a bit of math comes into play.
For all bonus points up to three, a multiplier of two is in effect for the total chances an applicant has in the lottery. With no bonus point, there is only the one base entry for a hunter. With one bonus point there are three entries: the single base entry and two bonus entries from the multiplier. With two bonus points, it jumps to five entries and with three it increases to seven entries. After that point, the odds increase exponentially for an applicant.
“Once you’ve accumulated four points, we really start to be more aggressive with the number of additional chances, so we use an exponential multiplier rather than [basic multiplication]. What we do then is we cube the number of bonus points, so once you’ve achieved four bonus points, your additional drawing chances goes up to four times four times four, which is 64 plus your original application,” Meissner explains, evidencing a total of 65 chances with four bonus points, and 126 for five bonus points.
This year, 64,200 firearms deer licenses are available to hunters in the state, down 8,000 from 2021. Areas seeing the greatest decline were those impacted by drought and a severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) last summer and fall. Despite these seasonal impacts, Meissner expects that the number of applications should remain generally the same, and even with increases over the last three years, the number of applicants only increased marginally from 2017 to 2021. More information on the licensing process and the upcoming deer season can be found at gf.nd.gov.
Featured Photo: The Grand Prize. Delving into the deer lottery in North Dakota, learning a few quirks and wrinkles in the process may help hunters find more success in getting a tag. Simonson Photo.