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GF&P expands elk licenses

WINNER -- Thousands of South Dakota rifle and archery hunters will test their luck again this year for about the same numbers of elk licenses as last year under the seasons set Thursday by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

The commissioners followed the suggestions of GF&P staff. They kept most of the license numbers the same as in 2012 but added 50 rifle and 10 archery for any elk in Unit 2 in the big central section of the Black Hills.

GF&P biologist Andy Lindbloom said the estimated populations of elk are about 500 in each of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park and about 5,100 in the rest of the Black Hills.

That's about 2,000 more overall than the 2012 estimate.

The overall goal is to increase the size of the elk herd in the Black Hills, according to John Kanta, regional supervisor for the state Wildlife Division.

A new management plan for elk is being assembled and will include a new population objective, he said.

A goal set in 1996 by the U.S. Forest Service called for a minimum of 4,600 elk on Forest Service land in the Black Hills.

Only 190 antlerless tags would be issued in total for the Custer State Park and Black Hills archery and rifle seasons, while 544 any-elk tags will be available. That ratio is intended to protect the breeding stock of cow elk.

No one came forward to testify Thursday at the commission's public hearing on the elk seasons. The commission kept the numbers of licenses the same for the most prized of all: the permits for Custer State Park.

There will be three any-elk licenses for the early archery season that starts Sept. 1 in the park and four any-elk licenses for the park's rifle season that opens Sept. 15.

The main rifle season for the Black Hills will see a small increase in license numbers.

Unit 1 in the northwest corner of the hills would remain the same at 75 any-elk tags and 40 antlerless elk tags.

Unit 2, which covers the big western center of the hills, will see an uptick of 50 more any-elk tags to 250 for this season. The unit's antlerless tags will stay the same at 50.

Unit 3 in the southern hills will remain at 100 any-elk and 80 antlerless again for 2013.

No licenses will be issued for Unit 4 and Unit 9 that form a strip along the eastern edge of the hills.

Unit 5 in the Keystone area and Unit 7 along the I-90 strip north of Rapid City will each get 10 any-elk tags, as they did in 2012.

The any-elk rifle season for the Black Hills opens Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. The antlerless-elk rifle season for the Black Hills is Oct. 16-31 and Dec. 1-15.

The main archery elk season Sept. 1-30 in the Black Hills will offer a total of 107 licenses, an increase of 10 from 2012.

Unit 1 will get the same number of archery tags with 20 any-elk and five antlerless.

Unit 2 will see 10 more archery tags with 50 any-elk and five antlerless.

Unit 3 will remain the same at 15 any-elk and five antlerless.

Unit 5 will get two any-elk again and Unit 7 will get five any-elk again.

The commission also set the complex set of season dates and license numbers for the prairie elk season for rifle hunters. The total prairie licenses will decrease slightly.

The any-elk prairie tags will drop by two to 45. The antlerless prairie tags also will drop by two to 51.