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Despite the increasing popularity of bow hunting in North Dakota, a majority of deer hunters say they'd prefer to hunt with a rifle if they could draw a tag, results from a survey looking at hunter satisfaction and motivations show. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Study sheds light on ND deer hunter attitudes

A majority of archery deer hunters in North Dakota say they’d still prefer to hunt with a gun if they could draw a tag, and women make up 19 percent of the state’s gun hunters.

Those are two of the key findings from a North Dakota study into hunter satisfaction and motivation published in mid-December in the wildlife journal Human-Wildlife Interactions.

The University of North Dakota and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department collaborated on the study, and Kristen Black, who graduated from UND in 2017 with a master’s degree in wildlife biology and authored the paper published in the wildlife journal.

The findings are a follow-up of sorts to a human dimensions survey Black originally conducted in 2016 for her master’s thesis.

As part of the survey, mailed out to a sample of 1,000 North Dakota hunters in each of four groups — bowhunters, gratis license holders, regular gun hunters and muzzleloader hunters — Black aimed to determine hunter satisfaction with deer management at a time of declining deer numbers and reduced hunting opportunities.

In her master’s research, Black found hunters generally remain satisfied with North Dakota deer management despite lower deer populations and reduced gun and muzzleloader licenses.

Assisting with the survey were Bill Jensen of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and Jay Boulanger and Robert Newman of UND’s biology department faculty.

Different focus

Black’s most recent paper looked at different aspects of the same study, Boulanger said, focusing on gun, archery and muzzleloader license applicants. Specifically, are more North Dakota deer hunters buying archery tags because gun and muzzleloader tags are more difficult to draw?

Archery tags in North Dakota can be purchased online, and there’s no limit on the number of tags available, while gun and muzzleloader tags are issued by lottery in limited numbers.

“What we know is that a majority, 58 percent of the archery hunter applicants, prefer to hunt deer with a gun,” Boulanger said of survey respondents. “That doesn’t mean to say they don’t like hunting with archery equipment, but it does suggest they would rather be out there hunting with a gun.”

The study also found that 19 percent of the gun license applicants responding to the survey were women — nearly twice the national average — Boulanger says, compared with 7 percent of archery hunters and 7 percent of muzzleloader license applicants.

North Dakota’s rural nature and the success of programs such as Becoming an Outdoors Woman and female-only hunter education classes all likely played a role in boosting the number of women who deer hunt.

That kind of information could help in guiding future hunter recruitment and retention efforts, Boulanger said.

“Archery deer hunters and also female deer hunters are understudied in the literature, and so that’s why we went in that direction,” Boulanger said. “In the U.S., there have been some recent studies trying to learn more about some of these under-represented hunter groups that may be increasing in popularity, so perhaps agencies can harness that popularity to see if they can increase interest for hunter recruitment and retention efforts.”

By the numbers

Among women, 29 percent said they hunted for meat, compared with 13 percent of male hunters. Archery deer hunters placed more emphasis on the trophy, nature and challenge of hunting than gun hunters, who favored the social aspect of deer hunting.

Among archery hunters, 66 percent were satisfied with their hunting experience, compared with 62 percent of gun hunters and 71 percent of muzzleloader applicants.

The survey provides baseline data for wildlife managers and others going forward, providing a starting point for measuring hunter satisfaction and motivations in the future, Boulanger said.

The study was the most extensive of its kind ever conducted among North Dakota deer hunters, he said.

“The idea was to learn more about North Dakota deer hunters, because again, we didn’t have a comprehensive survey of hunters previously, and so one point of this survey was simply to learn more about who these hunters are,” Boulanger said. “And then the other points are to learn about their satisfaction levels during a time when deer populations are lower to collect baseline information in the hopes we’ll conduct similar research in the future and see if there are changes in satisfaction levels as deer numbers increase.”

The complete report is available online at https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol12/iss3/13.

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