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GFP wants to rebuild deer herds by allowing hunters fewer does

PIERRE -- Trying to rebuild South Dakota's deer populations, state wildlife biologists want fewer does taken by hunters during the 2014 rifle seasons this fall.

Their plan calls for greatly reducing two-tag and three-tag licenses, especially those that can be used only for taking antlerless deer.

Those reductions would be partially offset by offering more single-tag licenses that can be used for any deer including bucks.

The overall effect of the Wildlife Division's plan would be tens of thousands fewer does killed by hunters this autumn, and therefore, many more does available to bear fawns next year.

The recommendations for all of the 2014 deer seasons will be presented and discussed during the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission meeting today and Friday at Sylvan Lake Resort Lodge in Custer State Park.

The commission will formally decide what to propose and then hold a public hearing at 2 p.m. CDT on June 5 in Yankton at the commission's next meeting.

Another effect of the changes being considered could be fewer hunters taking multiple deer.

One of the observations made by GF&P biologists and managers in recent years is that South Dakota's deer populations have faced increasing pressures because hunters can participate in so many different deer seasons.

Drought has contributed in various ways to fewer deer, too, by reducing natural cover and making deer more susceptible to localized disease outbreaks.

Strong returns on crops in recent years have also led farmers to more intensively clear tree belts and drain wetlands.

For the East River season, the Wildlife Division recommends dropping the total tags from 50,635 in 2013 to 30,075 this year.

Nearly all of that reduction would come in antlerless tags. The any-deer tags would be cut from 21,465 to 19,375.

The West River season would see an increase of 13,825 one-tag licenses and elimination of 13,855 two-tag and 3,745 three-tag licenses for South Dakota residents. Similar shifts are recommended for the licenses for non-residents.

Does would be especially protected under the West River recommendations. The total any-deer tags would decrease from 17,750 in 2013 to 16,075 this year, while the antlerless tags would be slashed from 27,000 in 2013 to 3,855 this year.

The one change for the Black Hills season would be no antlerless whitetail licenses this year. There were 100 for residents and eight for non-residents in 2013.

Otherwise, the Black Hills recommendations call for 3,000 resident and 240 nonresident any-whitetail licenses again for 2014, along with 200 resident and 16 nonresident any-deer licenses again.

For archery hunters, the plan calls for unlimited any-deer licenses and unlimited one-tag antlerless whitetail licenses.

Hunters who use muzzleloaders would see some changes under the recommendations. There would be the same 1,000 any-deer licenses available, but the unlimited any-deer antlerless licenses are to be changed to unlimited antlerless whitetails.

Muzzleloader hunters also would be limited to no more than two muzzleloader licenses, and only one could be an antlerless whitetail license.

The youth deer-hunting season would have a new restriction. The biologists recommend youth be limited to one single-tag any-antlerless license apiece.

The recommendations also call for closing the landowner free-antlerless deer license program for 2014.

Hunters overall took about 17,800 fewer deer in 2013 than in 2012.

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At A Glance

Here's a look at the 2013 deer harvests by season in South Dakota.

• East River — 19,210.

• West River — 16,927.

• Black Hills — 2,294.

• Archery — 7,277.

• Muzzle-loaders — 1,346.

• Youth — 2,507.

• Refuges — 85.