GF&P seeks smaller deer harvests
CUSTER -- Thousands of fewer deer licenses and tags could be offered to hunters for South Dakota's rifle, archery and muzzleloader seasons this fall under proposals made Thursday by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.
State biologists want to significantly reduce deer harvests in many hunting units throughout South Dakota, including in 18 of the counties covered by the East River season and in eight of the counties that are part of the West River season.
Some hunting units would receive more tags for those seasons.
There would be only a minor reduction for the Black Hills season.
No antlerless deer licenses would be allowed for the general rifle, archery and muzzleloader hunts in Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Clay, Codington, Douglas, Grant, Hutchinson, Lincoln, Turner, Union and Yankton counties.
Deer populations in those areas were hit to varying degrees by fatal disease last year. Approximately 3,700 deer were reported to be found dead.
Throughout much of the state, drought may be cutting into reproduction.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing at their June 6 meeting in Pierre and set the seasons that afternoon or the next day.
This is the first time that all of the seasons are being set at once. In previous years, the GF&P staff and commissioners used a series of meetings to roll out proposals for the various seasons.
Big game biologist Andy Lindbloom said hunters overall took 71,500 deer in the 2012 seasons, down from the 2011 total of 85,160 and the 2010 high of about 95,000.
The East River main season would run Nov. 23 through Dec. 8. Counties facing significant cuts in tags are Yankton, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clark, Clay, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lincoln, McPherson, Marshall, Sanborn, Spink, Sully, Turner and Union.
Hand, Hughes and Miner counties meanwhile could see some larger numbers of tags.
The West River main season is proposed for Nov. 16 through Dec. 1, with a few units opening earlier.
Russ Roberts of St. Onge spoke to the commission for the second time Thursday in as many months regarding the West River main start date. He wants the season to open on the traditional second Saturday of November, which this year falls on Nov. 9.
Roberts' argument is that the season will overlap too much with the rutting period when deer mate. He said that could affect reproduction.
Lindbloom, in turn, agreed with Roberts' point about the rut and acknowledged that more trophy bucks could be more susceptible to hunters as a result. "To me, it's more of a social issue than a biological issue," he said.
The commission in 2009 established a policy that the West River season should start 12 days before Thanksgiving and last 16 days so hunters would always have the opportunity to use the holiday period.
GF&P Secretary Jeff Vonk said he understands Roberts' concern that some hunters booked slots at ranches expecting the West River season to start on the second Saturday this year.
But, Vonk said, the commission in January set the dates for all seasons and, as a result, other hunters are planning for the West River season to begin the third Saturday as published.
He said the commission could discuss at a future meeting the issue for the 2014 season, when the season would open again on the third Saturday.
The West River counties that would see significant reductions in tags for 2013 are Pennington, Bennett, Custer, Harding, Meade and Perkins.
Some units in Jackson and Lyman counties would see cuts while other units in those counties would get increases.
Mellette and Todd counties are proposed for increases, and Tripp is under further consideration for possible increase at the suggest of commissioner Barry Jensen of White River, who relayed comments from landowners who contacted him.
The Black Hills season is scheduled for Nov. 1 through Nov. 30. There would be a minor cutback of 50 antlerless whitetail licenses available for residents.
Overall, for resident hunters East River tags would be reduced 14 percent to 50,635, while West River tags would be trimmed 3 percent to 44,750 and Black Hills tags would total 3,300. Corresponding decreases would be made for nonresident licenses where available.