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Deer hunters could face 'monumental' changes

White-tailed deer are pictured along a wetland in McCook County. (Luke Hagen / Republic)

PIERRE — The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission proposed big changes Wednesday for hunting deer with firearms in South Dakota.

The current lottery system allows a firearm hunter to apply separately for up to six seasons and draw multiple licenses. Under the proposed changes, a firearm hunter would choose one preferred season for the first draw. Hunters who didn't get their first choice would be the only applicants allowed into the second draw. Hunters could still get multiple licenses in the third and fourth draws. They also could buy licenses left after the draws.

Archery hunters and youth deer hunters wouldn't be covered by the changes.

Commissioners plan public hearings Sept. 6, when they meet in Yankton at Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, and Oct. 4, when they meet in Deadwood at Cadillac Jack's.

A decision would follow at the Deadwood meeting.

"This is a monumental change in the way we're going to go forward from here," Chairman Barry Jensen of White River said.

If the commission accepts the changes, they would take effect for the 2019 deer seasons. All license draws would occur on the same day.

State Game, Fish and Parks Department staff members worked with hundreds of deer hunters in developing two versions.

A department official, Kevin Robling, presented both to commissioners Wednesday. They proposed the broader one for more flexibility in the final design.

The other version would have hunters make a first choice from East River, West River and Black Hills seasons. There also are seasons for refuges, muzzleloader and Custer State Park.

Robling said he wants to gather three years of data if the changes are eventually approved. The timetable coincides with the five-year deer management plan up in 2022.

"If something's broke and not working, we will do all we can to fix it," Robling said.

Department research from the 2017 seasons found:

• 35,140 deer hunters applied for only one firearms season;

• 11,561 applied for two firearms seasons;

• 3,861 applied for three;

• A declining number applied for four, five or six seasons; and

• Twenty applied for all seven including special buck.

Robling said special-buck licenses would be folded into the East River and West River draws under the proposed changes.

Non-resident hunters would apply separately for their licenses under the proposed system. They would be combined with residents in the fourth draw.

"I take calls on this, almost daily. I encourage that," Robling said about the overall proposal. "We're all about an open and transparent process."

The proposal is available under the July meeting documents at https://bit.ly/2L1S3dm.

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