South Dakota Senate approves plan for hunting at night using artificial light on public lands

State law already allows for using moonlight to aide in night hunting on public lands. The new bill, brought by Sen. Mike Rohl, R-Aberdeen, allows for night vision for persons hunting after sunset, but not artificial light.

FSA South Dakota capitol
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PIERRE, S.D. — A bill to expand night hunting options that drew sharp criticism from wildlife organizations and Game, Fish and Parks before reemerging in a revised form passed out of the South Dakota Senate on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Prime sponsor Sen. Mike Rohl, R-Aberdeen, says he sees Senate Bill 73, which would allow for hunting jackrabbits, coyotes, and beaver on public lands, as well as release a three-person hunting party stricture for those on private lands, as a "safety bill more than anything."

"[This bill] allows individuals who are hunting at night on public land — which is currently allowed in law — to be able to use night vision to see better," said Rohl, in truncated remarks before the chamber.

The measure initially drew a flurry of questions last month in Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee , with GFP officials and wildlife organizations objecting to the bill's wide easing of night hunting rules.

During testimony, GFP Wildlife Division Director Tom Kirschenmann said that original bill presented a series of "unknowns."


"Those pieces of equipment certainly enhance your ability to see what's in front of you," Kirschenmann said before the Senate committee on Jan. 25. "But it still doesn't clearly divide to you the public land boundaries."

Representatives from the Izaak Walton League and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society also objected to the bill, citing increased endangerment of at-risk wildlife.

But after a vote was tabled, Rohl returned to the committee on Tuesday, Feb. 1, with a number of amendments to SB 73. The new bill cutting autumn and early winter from the proposed hunting season and wiped away Rohl's initial language allowing use of artificial light on public lands.

Still, one Pierre-area sportsman said, even as amended, he worried the bill would endanger other nocturnal hunters or hikers on public lands.

"I wear orange so you can see me," Noel Chicoine testified. "I fear that sportsmen like myself will not be seen and ... suffer from unfortunate accidents."

But a majority on the committee seemed appeased.

"I think it's a great idea to allow this equipment," said Sen. Herman Otten, R-Lennox, adding he believed the thermal vision equipment made hunters more, not less safe.

The committee passed the legislation 6-1, and the bill similarly sailed through the full Senate on Thursday by a vote of 33-2.


The measure now goes to the House of Representatives.

Christopher Vondracek is the South Dakota correspondent for Forum News Service. Contact Vondracek at , or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek .

The state's biggest political leaders have touted inbound migration, so-called "blue state refugees" who flooded South Dakota. But the biggest driver of partisan races this coming summer and fall appears to be a redistricting process, log-jamming Republicans in primaries and opening up new turf for Democrats.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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