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Thousands of deer licenses returned

PIERRE -- Deer hunters returned 2,624 licenses they purchased but decided not to use this year for South Dakota's seasons. The state Game, Fish and Parks Department extended the refund offer because of deer die-offs from disease. Hunters received $176,670 in license refunds. GF&P also pulled hundreds of unsold licenses off the market in some counties where deer deaths seemed to be heavy.

Most of the dead deer were whitetails.

South Dakota was among states across the northern plains and upper Midwest that suffered unusual outbreaks this year of Epizootic Hemorrahgic disease.

EHD has often been linked to deer deaths during dry conditions in western South Dakota. That was true this year again especially in Meade, Butte, Lawrence and Bennett counties.

But the surprise came across the tier of counties along South Dakota's southern border from Gregory east with more than 2,000 EHD-related deaths reported through early November.

GF&P consequently removed large numbers of licenses in counties such as 114 from Bon Homme, 212 in Charles Mix, 276 in Clay, 279 in Hutchinson, 65 in Union and 115 in Yankton.

The EHD virus is transmitted by a biting midge that tends to concentrate at slow-moving streams, ponds and standing water.

GF&P started offering the license refunds in September and reduced license availability in EHD-affected areas.

Hunters turned back licenses for every possible season: Archery, 143; Black Hills, 61; East River, 1,130; Special buck East River, 20; Landowner, nine; Refuge, 11; Muzzleloader, 70; West River, 1,126; Special buck West River, 35; Youth, 12; and Mentored Youth, seven.

Tom Kirschenmann, a biologist for the state Wildlife Division, said the season-setting schedule next year will be condensed so all of the 2013 deer seasons will be proposed at May 2-3 meeting planned in Custer State Park.

The public hearing on the deer seasons and commission decisions would occur at the commission's June 6-7 meeting in Pierre.