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$102,000 bighorn sheep hunter revealed

The Watertown-area businessman who purchased an exclusive Black Hills bighorn sheep license for $102,000 in an auction last month was identified Wednesday by the Game, Fish & Parks Department.

Jon Dagel, whose address is listed as Florence, a small town near Watertown, was the top bidder for the highly sought bighorn ram permit sold at auction by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation on March 23 in Minneapolis.

GF&P Secretary Jeff Vonk said the man's identity became a public record when the license was issued Monday.

Vonk released the name after the Rapid City Journal and Bob Mercer, a Capitol reporter providing news for a group of South Dakota daily newspapers including The Daily Republic, requested it under open-records provisions of state law. A GF&P official had earlier suggested the GF&P Commission might have the authority to release or withhold the name. But Vonk and other GF&P officials determined that once the license was issued to Dagel, his name became a public record. By late afternoon Wednesday, Dagel had not returned calls left at two of his businesses seeking comment. He owns Dagel Steel Construction in Florence and Doc's Bar in Watertown.

This is the first time GF&P has issued one of the limited bighorn ram permits through a fundraising auction, although it has been done for years in a number of other states. GF&P intends to use the money raised in the auction for wild sheep management in the Black Hills.

Not everyone supports the idea of selling one of just three Black Hills bighorn permits available this year to the highest bidder.

Critics include Murdo rancher David Brost, who served on the GF&P Commission in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"I think the auction was a poor idea and most of the people I've talked to agree with me," he said. "It takes away a hunting opportunity from a regular South Dakotan, even though this year the top bidder was from South Dakota."

Brost drew one of the bighorn permits about 30 years ago and said his good fortune in the drawing was matched and exceeded by the "fabulous" quality of the hunt.

Despite his reservations about the auction, Brost said he hopes the additional money helps expand bighorn sheep herds in the Black Hills so more permits can be offered in a general drawing.

"I don't know, maybe if they use that money wisely they can build that sheep population up to where we can have 10 permits," he said. "If they do that, I guess it'll be worth it."

That's the goal, said GF&P Regional Wildlife Manager John Kanta, of Rapid City. An advisory group including GF&P officials, a U.S. Forest Service representative, a Midwest board member of the Wild Sheep Foundation and several South Dakota residents will help target the money to do the most good, Kanta said.

"It'll potentially go toward research, working on disease issues in the Black Hills, augmentation or transplants for new herds -- money on the ground for wild sheep," he said.

Kanta said there is a 100 percent success rate on the bighorn permits during a season that stretches from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31.

"If you learn how to hunt bighorn sheep and put the time in, you can expect 100 percent success and probably shoot a really nice ram," he said. "And this is a different hunt than you might find in western Wyoming, where you might have to hire a guide and pack in. Here you can drive out of Rapid City 20 minutes and be hunting bighorn sheep."

One of the licenses issued through the general application is for a Pennington County unit. The other is for a Custer County unit. The auction permit is good for both.

Former GF&P Commission Chairman Jeff Olson, of Rapid City, an advocate for the auction permit for 20 years, said the $102,000 will be augmented by additional funding from the Wild Sheep Foundation and the Greater Dakota Chapter of Safari Club International.

"It's a lot of money and it's going to a good cause," Olson said. "In the long run, we should see more sheep tags for the general public."