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GFP proposes giant reductions in antlerless-only deer licenses

SYLVAN LAKE -- In many South Dakota counties this fall, there won't be any firearms licenses available specifically for hunting only antlerless deer such as does and fawns, under proposals made Thursday by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

The commissioners are following the recommendations of the state Wildlife Division. They plan to slash antlerless-only licenses by some 41,000 for the East River and West River firearms seasons.

The goal is to rebuild deer populations in many parts of South Dakota by keeping more does alive.

That will be accomplished primarily by eliminating most of the multi-tag licenses that allowed hunters to take more than one deer per license.

Hunter success was down in 2013 for the East River and West River seasons.

"The bottom line is we're responding and this is an aggressive response," Tom Kirschenmann, the division's big-game chief, said.

Hunters could still use their any-deer licenses for does and fawns, but the traditional reason for applying for an any-deer license is to get the chance to shoot a buck.

A public hearing is scheduled for June 5 when the commission meets in Yankton.

Biologist Andy Lindbloom said hunter success for the East River season in 2013 was at a modern low.

He said 45 percent of hunters who drew an East River license harvested a deer and only 38 percent of the tags were filled.

For the West River season, 55 percent of the licensed hunters took a deer but they filled only 36 percent of the tags.

"A lot of folks were complaining about low deer numbers. We took those to heart," Lindbloom said.

Under the commission's proposal Thursday, the 2014 East River season would have 19,375 licenses for any deer, a decrease of 2,090 from 2013.

But the antlerless-only licenses would drop to 10,700 for East River, from 29,170 a year ago — a 59 percent reduction.

The West River prairie season would see an even larger drop.

The West River proposal for 2014 calls for 16,075 any-deer licenses, a reduction of 1,675 from 17,750 in 2013.

The West River antlerless-only licenses would be eliminated for mule deer for 2014 and the overall total of antlerless-only licenses would be chopped to 3,855, from 27,000 a year ago — an 86 percent cut.

One audience member, Matt "Rip" Rippentrop of Oelrichs, told the commission he had spoken with landowners recently who told him they were ready to call for a boycott of the West River season if antlerless mule deer licenses weren't taken away.

Commissioner Cathy Peterson of Salem said some landowners from her area were prepared to close their land if changes weren't made to start rebuilding deer numbers.

The commission's chairman, John Cooper of Pierre, recalled the problems many landowners faced a decade ago when they would find 500 to 600 deer wintering in herds on their properties.

Cooper, the state's previous Game, Fish and Parks secretary, said a liberal approach was taken for licensing for many years in order to get more deer killed.

"We were successful," Cooper said. "That's hard to get across.... What happened is, nature happened, and so did we."

The proposed Black Hills season would be essentially the same as 2013 with 200 resident and 16 non-resident any-deer licenses and 3,000 resident and 240 non-resident any-whitetail licenses. The only cut would be eliminating 100 resident and eight non-resident antlerless-only whitetail licenses from 2013.

The commission will consider proposals today (Friday) for 2014 deer seasons for archery, muzzle-loader and youth hunters. Those also will be subject to a public hearing June 5 in Yankton.