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GF&P designates a trophy ram license to be sold at auction to highest bidder

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PIERRE - The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission set the 2013 season for hunting bighorn sheep Thursday and decided that one of the three licenses should be sold at public auction.

The auction license will be available for use in specially designated hunting units in either Custer County or Pennington County.

The other two licenses - one for the Custer County unit and one for the Pennington County unit -- will be awarded through the traditional process of a random drawing from applications.

Only South Dakota residents who haven't previously received a state sheep license are eligible to be in the drawing. A hunter can apply in only one of the two units.

In setting aside the third license for auction, the commission added South Dakota to the growing trend nationally of state wildlife agencies offering opportunities at trophies for large amounts of money.

The commission passed a resolution naming Wild Sheep Foundation - Midwest Chapter as the non-profit organization authorized to conduct the auction. It will be held in March as part of a multi-state event.

Commissioner Jim Spies of Watertown, a sheep hunter who is familiar with license auctions, said he would be "amazed" if the South Dakota license doesn't bring $70,000 to $75,000. "That's just my guess," he said.

Spies was an advocate on the commission for the auction license. During the discussion Thursday, he said making one tag available in 2013 for auction doesn't mean the practice will happen every year for the next 10 years.

"We're talking about just this go-round," Spies said.

The state Wildlife Division recommended the auction license and that it be valid only in the Custer County unit.

Spies made the motion to have it available for both units.

Commission chairman Jeff Olson of Rapid City said chances are there will be two old Class-4 trophy rams shot out of the Spring Creek unit in Pennington County.

Commissioner John Cooper of Pierre warned he will "double back" and vote against continuing the auction tag in 2014 if the Rapid City-area sheep herd is hurt.

"This is a pilot program for one year to see if it will work," Cooper, the previous head of the Game, Fish and Parks Department, said.

The Wild Sheep Foundation will notify GFP of the successful bidder and the amount. The bidder will be issued the license by GFP.

The season will run Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013. Two licenses were issued for the 2012 season and both hunters took rams. There were five licenses annually through 2010, with all five filled with rams, before a reduction to three licenses and three rams harvested in 2011.