PIERRE, S.D. — A bill that would guarantee antelope and deer hunting licenses for absentee South Dakota landowners passed through the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and will now head to the Senate floor for consideration.
House Bill 1184 passed on a 6-3 vote through the committee on Tuesday, March 3.
Anyone who owns at least 640 continuous acres in West River South Dakota would be eligible to for a deer hunting license or antelope license that could be used to tag an animal on their land.
Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, is the bill’s prime sponsor.
Brunner estimated that about 717 landowners would be eligible for the licenses, which means about 1,400 more animals could be hunted in South Dakota.
Brunner said the bill is something that the state could do for the absentee landowners that pay property taxes on their lands.
The 640 continuous acres would have to be used for agricultural purposes, Brunner explained.
The license fee would be set by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission and would not be less than the nonresident license fee, Brunner added.
In addition to the landowner, a child or spouse of the landowner would also be eligible to receive a license under the terms set forth in HB 1184.
Chris Cammack, of Austin, Texas, spoke in support of the bill.
Cammack, who was raised in Union Center, owns land in Meade County but lives in Texas with his family where he runs a taxidermy business.
“It’s so important that I’m able to bring my daughter back to my own personal land in South Dakota and let her hunt whitetail or mule deer,” Cammack said.
Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, spoke in opposition to the bill swaying that it would not allow GFP to make reductions on deer tags which could leave herds stressed if populations are depleted by disease or weather conditions.
Brunner said that if deer numbers did drop, GFP wouldn’t have a chance to change the number of licenses allocated to absentee landowners covered by the bill.
“I pray every day that the deer numbers would go down. We need more hunters, we need more people in there. From Wyoming to Missouri River, it’s dangerous,” Brunner said.
Brunner added that the licenses allocated through the bill would apply to private lands and wouldn’t make a great biological difference in deer or antelope populations.
“We’re talking about a very small number of animals,” Brunner said.
Kevin Robling, deputy secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, said the state harvests about 52,000 deer annually and that populations are controlled through hunting antler-less deer.
Sen. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal, said he would vote in favor of the bill, noting his own children who own land in the state but live in other states.
“For them to come back to South Dakota to hunt with their children and their grandchildren is a great thing,” Blare said.
Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said he’d vote in support of the bill, but expressed his concerns with the bill’s potential to drive up land prices in the state.
“What worries me is that this comes into place and then we start seeing big money coming in to buy up big ranches,” Heinert said. “Then there’s the guy that’s living here and just getting started in farming or ranching, but he isn’t able to buy that land.”