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South Dakota GFP finalizes changes to elk seasons in hopes of exciting hunters

More access sought for prairie elk hunting season

A bull elk runs through the woods
A bull elk runs through the woods.
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WATERTOWN — More elk, more elk hunting opportunities.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks commission on Thursday finalized several changes to a number of elk hunting seasons at its meeting in Watertown.

The changes, which mostly involved the number of licenses issued to hunters, will affect the Custer State Park early archery elk hunting season, the Custer State Park elk hunting season (any elk), the archery elk hunting season, the Black Hills elk hunting season and the prairie elk hunting season.

Chad Swtizer, wildlife program administrator for South Dakota, Game, Fish and Parks, told the commission at the meeting that the changes aim to help slowly grow the various elk herds in South Dakota while simultaneously providing more opportunities for the hunting public.

“We try to find our balance there. We cannot inundate the Black Hills with hunters yet, but we can taste some of that and provide some additional opportunities for bow hunting and even some antlerless elk that will keep pressure on and allow the population to slowly grow,” Switzer said of the proposed changes to the early archery season at Custer State Park.

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Approved changes to that season include an increase of resident any elk licenses from three to four, along with establishing a max cap of no more than 10.

For the Custer State Park elk hunting season (any elk), the number of resident any elk licenses will increase from nine to 12 while also establishing a maximum cap of no more than 20 any elk licenses. Of those 12 any elk licenses issued for the park, 11 will be valid specifically for Custer State Park and the 12 any elk licenses will be made available to a non-governmental organization as a raffle licenses that is valid in the park and any Black Hills hunting unit in which an any elk license is issued.

More licenses were added for the archery elk hunting season for Black Hills units. Switzer said the increase will include a jump from 147 to 182 any elk licenses and an increase from 70 to 90 antlerless elk licenses, for a total of 272 licenses. The proposal again capped potential licenses at 150 for antlerless elk and 200 for any elk licenses.

The largest jump in issued licenses will come during the Black Hills elk hunting season for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Applicants will see a total of 535 any elk licenses and 730 antlerless elk licenses, for a total of 1,265.

Switzer said this chance should excite potential hunters.

“I hope our elk applicants are excited about this opportunity. We are increasing so many elk hunting opportunities here,” Switzer said. “We feel we can slowly increase that elk population in the Black Hills and provide some more bull hunting opportunities for the thousands of applicants out there. I just wish we had the supply to meet the demand, but we’re doing our best to balance those needs.”

For the prairie elk season, licenses for the 2022 and 2023 were set at 102 any elk and 175 antlerless elk, for a total of 277.

Switzer noted that the prairie elk population is doing very well, so much so that there are reports of animals causing damage to crop fields and fence lines. That may eventually lead to increased access to private land for hunters, which South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officials have been working to improve lately.

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“Prairie elk are thriving, and probably thriving in some places where landowners would not like to see them do as well. “(Prairie elk management is) probably one of the toughest subjects we’re dealing with right now, and we’ll just have to be adaptive.”

John Kanta, terrestrial section chief for the division of wildlife, said the department would keep working with landowners who may otherwise be hesitant to give increased access at this time.

“The biggest issue out there is access. We’ve been working hard trying to get access. We do have one elk access agreement out there, but there are a couple of really large land owners out there that will hold these elk at times and there is no access to those properties, and I don’t think we’ll get it,” Kanta said. “We’ll continue to work with some of those folks around there, but thus far we’ve got the access they’re willing to give, and unfortunately is may take this elk herd growing and a little more damage for folks to understand that we need to get hunters in there, particularly to kill cows, not necessarily the bulls.”

The commission approved the proposed changes to the seasons by unanimous vote.

The next scheduled meeting for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks commission is May 5 and 6 at Custer State Park.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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