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Antelope hunting again limited to SD hunters

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- South Dakota's firearms season for hunting antelope will be off limits again this fall to hunters who aren't state residents.

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The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission agreed Monday to the restriction.

State wildlife officials recommended fewer licenses overall so that antelope populations can rebuild. Because demand from South Dakotans is expected to exceed the licenses available, GF&P personnel recommended eliminating licenses for nonresidents.

"This is a social issue," big-game biologist Andy Lindbloom said.

The 2012 firearms season for antelope also was closed to nonresidents for the same reason. The archery season, which has much lower rates of participation and success by hunters, remains open to residents and nonresidents alike.

The commission set the antelope firearms season to run Sept. 28 through Oct. 13.

A total of 3,630 tags will be available to hunters: 2,975 for bucks and 655 for does.

Those are reductions from 2012 when 3,000 buck tags and 1,585 doe tags were available and the harvest was 1,695 bucks and 942 does and fawns.

For comparison, in 2008 when herds were at their recent peaks, there were 33,835 tags issued and 17,056 bucks and does harvested.

Antelope populations fluctuate broadly depending on the severity of winters. Herds exceeded 40,000 three years in a row before bad weather took deep tolls starting in 2008.

Aerial surveys taken in May through mid-June this year suggested spring counts of about 7,900 bucks and 17,400 does. GF&P estimates of the total population will be revised upward after fawns finish arriving.

The commission didn't allow nonresidents to participate in the firearms season until 1983. That year, 8 percent of the licenses were set aside for hunters visiting South Dakota.

Since then, the policy has bounced back and forth.

In 1986, the commission eliminated the nonresident quota. It resumed at 8 percent in 1992. It was eliminated again in 1997 but was returned to 7 percent in 2001 and 8 percent in 2002. The nonresident quota was eliminated again in 2012.

Commissioner Barry Jensen, of White River, said the Wildlife Division needs to develop a number-based approach that can be used for deciding when and how many licenses should be earmarked for nonresidents.

Double tags, which allow a hunter to take two antelope on one license, meanwhile, will be offered again in some units where local populations need to be thinned.

Some landowners had asked the commission to restore the nonresident quota. Hosting big-game hunters is a source of income for many landowners across South Dakota.

But the commission proceeded to accept the plan without resolving the nonresident question. GF&P Secretary Jeff Vonk raised that point immediately after the vote.

"Well," commissioner John Cooper of Pierre said, with a shrug of his shoulders, "next year."

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