Dakota Report: Once in a lifetime ND tags

by Doug Leier

The deadline to submit an application for the 2013 North Dakota moose, elk and bighorn sheep license lottery is March 27.

Photo credit: NDGF
Photo credit: NDGF

Even though the odds of drawing one of these “big three” licenses is small, you of course can’t get one if you don’t fill out and send in a paper or online application.

Year in and year out, I field many calls and emails about the odds of drawing “any” vs. “cow” or “bull” tags in particular units. Regardless of the odds, I try to make sure that interested hunters are aware of the time and resources that are usually necessary to have a successful hunt.

Too often I hear stories about people whose thrill of beating the odds and receiving one of these once-in-a-lifetime licenses, turned to disappointment the following fall when the effort required for success was more than they expected.

Many hunters tend to equate these special big game hunts with deer hunting, because that’s what we know. With the exception of some landowners who live within certain moose and elk units, none of us get to hunt moose, elk or sheep more than once. We don’t get to go the first time, learn on the go, then come back much better prepared the next time we get the same license.

To make a “big three” hunt truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a potential hunter needs to be willing to devote considerable time and energy. Many hunters do just that, making preseason trips to their unit, visiting with landowners to line up potential places to hunt, and allotting plenty of potential hunting time.

Because of that, success rates for North Dakota sheep and moose hunters are high, and elk success has been better than in many other states. Elk hunting success in North Dakota, however, is not nearly as high as deer hunting success. Elk are wary animals that typically live in rugged terrain, making for a difficult hunt.

Even the most prepared elk hunters are not always successful, but if you’ve tried your best, you can take pride in knowing you put a full effort into the hunt. Anyone who has not invested significant effort into one of these hunts is much more likely to feel like they’ve wasted an opportunity for which there is no second chance.

My point in all of this is to help potential applicants understand they need to be willing to prepare for a long and difficult hunt. Success is not just measured in filling a tag. As with most things in life, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Each year I’m sure many people apply for moose, elk or bighorn sheep licenses who don’t consider at all if they’ll have time to commit to prehunt scouting, and to take leave from work and put time in during the hunt.

I’m not trying to scare people away from applying for one of these licenses, but it is important to honestly assess your own situation, and ask yourself if you’re ready for the commitment should you draw one of the big three.

And even then the only guarantee I can make is that receiving a license means you have the opportunity to hunt. The rest is like the weather. We try to predict it, but the variable are usually so complex you never know exactly how it’s going to pan out.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov

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