Contributor: Adam Justinger
The opening weekend of deer hunting is like a holiday for North Dakota hunters. For many, it is a time-honored tradition where all generations of family and friends come together and hit the woods. And while stories may change from group to group, one thing every hunting group has in common is the hope to shoot da thirty point buck.
So, imagine you’re sitting in your stand, dreaming about a nice warm breakfast, and out walks the biggest buck you have ever seen. Any ounce of sleepiness you had is quickly overcome by adrenaline. You raise your rifle, take a deep breath, and slowly squeeze the trigger. You make a perfect shot. You quickly call your friends and family to come and help with your harvest. Once everyone arrives, you all gather around your trophy and begin snapping pictures. After pictures, you process your game and enjoy it until the next deer season comes around. So, what’s the problem?
Pursuant to the 2020-2021 North Dakota Deer Hunting Proclamation, “IMMEDIATELY after an animal has been killed, the hunter must indicate the date of kill by cutting out the appropriate month and day from the tag provided with the license and attach it to the base of the antler on antlered deer or in a slit in the ear on antlerless deer as illustrated on the tag backing to prevent its removal.”
Failure to immediately tag your deer in violation of the proclamation can result in a B Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days imprisonment, a $1,500.00 fine, or both. Further, there is another statute that could punish an individual with a class A misdemeanor for failing to immediately affix a locking seal. While this statute appears to only apply to the old metal tags issued during registration, nowhere under North Dakota law does it define what a “locking seal” means? Further, for either of these violations, an individual could also have their hunting, trapping, or fishing privileges suspended.
By now, the question you are more than likely asking yourself is what does “immediately” mean? Does it mean after you take a picture? Does it mean after gutting the deer? Does it mean after shooting the deer but prior to moving the animal? The answer unfortunately is not clear. Like the term “locking seal,” the term “immediately” is also not defined under North Dakota law. As a result, the term seems to be discretionary.
So, using the example from earlier, let’s say you harvest your deer and take a picture with your deer prior to tagging it. Would this be a violation? The answer is maybe. In talking with several game wardens, it appears that some would not consider this a violation. However, that does not mean that other game wardens would not charge you with a criminal offense.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid this situation is to tag your deer when you first approach the animal. First, confirm that the deer has expired. After that confirmation, cut out the appropriate date and tag your deer. Once that is complete, take as many pictures as you would like and enjoy the rest of your celebration with family and friends. And if you don’t get a big one the first weekend, there is always the second week of deer camp!
Fish and game cases can be very complex. If you are approached by a game warden or are facing a fish and game offense, it may be in your best interest to contact an attorney. For help with game and fish violations in North Dakota, please contact Adam Justinger at SW&L Attorneys in Fargo at 701-297-2890. For future articles relating to game and fish violations, check our blog.