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Wiltz: The need-to-know on SD's deer seasons

Finalizing the South Dakota 2017 hunting seasons appeared to be the primary agenda of the June 8 Department of Game, Fish, and Parks commissioners meeting in Oacoma.

A wealth of relevant data was made available, and with this brief overview of the coming seasons, we'll have a good understanding of what's going on currently with South Dakota deer management.

ANTELOPE: Regarding the coming rifle antelope season, a total of 3,347 single-tag licenses was recommended, with 82 going to non-residents. There would be no doe tags. This is up 11 percent from last year. Last year's rifle success rate was 70 percent. Archery tags are unlimited for both residents and nonresidents. Last year's archery success rate was 26 percent.

With the seemingly major deer management study last winter, I expected to see some significant changes for the 2017 deer seasons. There are no major changes, and the changes we do see relate to a drop in the number of antlerless (doe) tags.

EAST RIVER DEER: Recommendations include zero three-tag licenses for 2017. Tag numbers include a total of 31,585 for the 2017 season, down from 42,055 in 2016. Most of this drop relates to doe tags. In 2016, there were 22,100 doe tags and the recommended number of 2017 doe tags will be 12,715. The overall 2016 success rate was 44 percent. Most of our East River deer are in the north. The only southern county to break the four-digit mark is Brule with 1,100 tags.

WEST RIVER DEER: Total recommended tags for 2017 number 21,980, down from 25,185 in 2016. Again this relates to a recommended drop in doe tags from 8,705 in 2016 to 5,805 in 2017. The overall 2016 success rate was 53 percent.

The northwest counties offer the most tags, with a notable exception. The southeast corner of the West River block is made up of Gregory and Tripp Counties, both of which are leading West River deer producers and both offer excellent river habitat. Gregory County will offer 1,450 tags with Tripp County at 1,350 tags. It is probably safe to say that Gregory and Tripp Counties, with their proximity to the state's population centers, are the most coveted of West River units.

BLACK HILLS DEER: Some of you remember when Hills deer tags could be purchased over the counter. Times have changed. 4,300 resident tags and 344 nonresident tags were proposed for the 2017 season. For residents, 200 are "any deer" tags, 3500 are "any whitetail" tags, and 600 are "antlerless whitetail" tags. Tag numbers are slightly down from the 2016 season when hunter success was an excellent 72 percent.

A Black Hills deer hunt has been called a poor man's mountain hunt. There's a lot of truth in this statement. Hike in with tent and back packs, set up camp, and imagine you're in the Rockies. Choose the right area and it's the real deal.

MUZZLELOADER DEER: If you haven't considered the South Dakota muzzleloader deer season, take a harder look. Like archery, a tag is a sure thing and can save your season, if you failed to draw East River, West River, or Black Hills.

A proposed 1,000 "any deer" tags will be issued. Only residents may compete for these tags, and preference points accumulate for these "any deer" tags. One can hunt most anywhere he or she wishes. What are the odds? Last year 7,931 applicants drew for 961 tags. That's a 12 percent chance. Over 7-8 years, you're going to draw that "any deer" tag.

My so-called sure thing? Antlerless whitetail tags are unlimited — even for nonresidents. The muzzleloader season runs Dec. 1 to Jan. 15.

Deer hunt opportunities abound — even for those unlucky in the draw. All state deer license applications are now available online, with hard copy applications at your favorite license agent's business in early July.

I was at the June 8 GF&P meetings and as you might guess, I had to add my opinion on the deer seasons. I looked the commissioners right in the eye when I said that we needed a more equitable method of license distribution. I told them that if I drew a West River tag for 2017, I didn't want one for the following year until those who failed to draw in 2017 drew a 2018 tag. Hopefully they will address this issue.

See you next week.

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