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WILTZ: Drawing an SD deer tag can be a matter of luck


The Daily Republic 

About one month ago I received an interesting letter from a frustrated deer hunter. Year after year he has failed to draw an East River tag to hunt bucks on his home turf in Bon Homme County. He says doe hunting is ok, but he’d like to go after antlers on occasion. Today, after some brief personal comments, I’m going to address his plight thanks to information supplied by our Game, Fish, & Parks people.

I don’t wish to insinuate that tags for more distant counties are inferior as I have had one fine time over recent years hunting East River counties further from home. If a buck hunter is not particular about location, then East River can be hunted every year.

Back in the 1990s I became frustrated with my inability to draw a Charles Mix “any deer” or “any whitetail deer” tag. I began to make Jerauld County my second choice on the application and found immediate success. On at least one occasion I was even able to draw an “any deer” tag in Jerauld. If I didn’t know it before then (I married into a marvelous Jerauld County family), I found the Jerauld folks to be friendly, accommodating, and hospitable. And they had deer!

In 2006, a close friend and hunting partner invited me to hunt Brule County with him, his son and his grandson. At the same time, death, moves and health issues were breaking up my Jerauld County gang. I jumped at the chance for a new hunting opportunity. In the eight years I’ve applied for a Brule County tag, most of the time as a second choice, I’ve never failed to draw. I believe my Bon Homme friend could hunt East River bucks every year if he was willing to drive the hundred-plus miles.

With regard to drawing the more difficult Bon Homme tag, I’ll go through the questions I asked Game, Fish, & Parks about drawing East River tags. I appreciate the speedy reply I received from GF&P’s Shon Eide. Shon’s answers will follow the questions. Note that an applicant is given one preference point for every year he fails to draw. GF&P uses a lottery type system drawn by computer.

  • In 2013, how many people applied for Bon Homme county’s 100 “any deer” tags? Answer: 324.
  • How many Bon Homme land owners applied, and how were they selected? Answer: There were 77 land owners with at least one year of preference applied. Half of the 50 licenses went to landowners.
  • Is there a formula for drawing East River tags? Answer: Half of the tags go to land owners.
  • How many 2013 Bon Homme applicants had at least one year of preference points? Answer: 167.
  • What were the most preference points any Bon Homme applicant had? Answer: Five.
  • What were the most preference points an unsuccessful 2013 Bon Homme applicant had? Answer: Five.
  • What were the most preference points any East River applicant had? Answer: 11.
  • Is it possible to never draw an East River tag? Answer: Yes, so long as more applicants are being added to the pool than being taken out.
  • Is there a special pool like Custer State Park’s elk pool for unsuccessful East River applicants? Answer: No.

Before I go any further, please remember that license numbers were down in 2013 because of the 2012 epizootic hemorrhagic disease epidemic that caused die off in the deer population. Normally some antlerless tags would also be available. In my opinion, 50 percent of the tags going to land owners is a fair policy. It is apparent that land owners don’t draw successfully every year. Also remember that they feed our deer.

Is there a way to improve the system for drawing South Dakota rifle deer tags? I’ve never had a problem with the system, and never felt unfairly treated. However, given the answers to the above questions, I think something should be done about it.

I would like to see a special pool for those applicants with a certain number of preference points. Those in the pool would get their tags before the other non-landowner tags are drawn. I see this as fair for all as even the unluckiest of applicants will eventually occupy a place in the special pool. Look at it this way — never is a long, long time.

What should that preference point number be? It’s arbitrary. Only the GF&P license office would know. It could vary from county to county, as some counties have no need for a special pool. I would like to know if the number five would work, as the most preference points any unsuccessful applicant for a Bon Homme tag had was five. My Bon Homme correspondent didn’t mention how many preference points he had.

Right now I am accumulating preference points for a Charles Mix County “any deer tag” as I have access to a ranch that offers both mule deer and whitetails. I may never get that tag. However, if I changed my choice to “any whitetail,” I feel that I might be successful in the next few years. Only time will tell.

I currently have a muzzleloader doe tag. This season runs Dec. 1 through Jan. 15. Because of Betsy’s health, I don’t know yet whether or not I will be able to use it. Due to last year’s EHD die off, I can’t use my tag in Bon Homme, Charles Mix or a number of other eastern counties. I can return to my old stomping grounds in Jerauld, Brule or Gregory. Again, time will tell.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate in the draw. How many people have twice taken a rifle elk in Custer State Park like I have? For most applicants, one such hunt will never happen. Though I treasure the memories of both hunts, one of them should have gone to someone less fortunate than I.

See you next week.