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GF&P seeks changes for 2014 elk harvest

Elk in velvet in Wind Cave National Park. (National Park Service photo)

South Dakota elk hunters would compete for slightly fewer licenses for bulls but would see more licenses for cows available under the 2014 proposals for the Black Hills, prairie and Custer State Park seasons.

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The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission will hold a public hearing on the plans April 3 at Cedar Shore Resort at Oacoma, before making a decision either later that afternoon or the next morning.

Thousands of sportsmen apply each year under the state's drawing system for the relatively small number of elk licenses allocated according to geographic hunting units.

The premier elk licenses are considered by many to be for Custer State Park. Its rifle season had four any-elk licenses available in 2013 and 12,888 would-be hunters applied.

The chance of drawing a CSP rifle-elk permit would be slimmer yet this year. Three licenses are proposed.

The park's archery season for elk likewise would see its licenses reduced to two for the 2014 season. There were three last year and 2,740 bow hunters applied.

Elk hunters generally are pursuing a trophy rack, although many hunters are willing to fill freezers with the large animal's meat from a cow or bull. The preference for a bull is evident in the numbers of applications year after year.

As proposed, the general archery-elk season would have 92 licenses available in 2014 for any elk — meaning bulls can be taken. That would be the same as in 2013, during which approximately 3,900 hunters applied for those licenses as their first preference.

The 2014 archery season also would have 40 antlerless licenses available, an increase of 25 from 2013. Only 27 hunters applied for the 15 antlerless licenses in 2013 as their first preference.

Among the 107 general-archery licensed hunters in 2013, the success rate was 35 percent, with 34 bulls and three cows harvested.

The additional 25 archery-antlerless licenses would be for Unit H2 in the center of the Black Hills, where the largest numbers of elk are and where there is ample public land open to hunting.

The big hunt for elk is the Black Hills general rifle season. Many small changes are proposed for 2014 as part of the annual management to keep elk populations small enough to satisfy landowners and large enough to satisfy hunters.

The state Wildlife Division staff is working on a new management plan for elk. A formal goal hasn't been set yet for the Black Hills elk population yet, but biologists told the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission at its meeting last week that 6,000 seems reasonable.

GF&P regional supervisor John Kanta said the winter count of elk in the Black Hills is estimated at about 5,500.

The population had reached as high as 7,000 a decade ago and license numbers were increased significantly to bring the population down. After hitting a low in 2011, the population is gradually coming back up.

Kanta said the population next winter would reach about 5,900 unless license numbers are increased for the 2014 season. He said the goal is about 5,800.