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Antlerless deer hunting proposed for Dec. 8-16

The antlerless deer season would run Dec. 8 to 16 statewide under a proposal put forth last week by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) Commission.

In March, the Commission proposed ending all deer hunting seasons on Jan. 1, and it offered two options for firearm antlerless seasons.

Antlerless hunting is tagged on at the end of the normal hunting season to reduce the deer population by targeting does.

In March, the Commission also proposed reinstating the antlerless season for West River because of increasing deer numbers. Most recently, the firearm antlerless season was open only in East River.

Traditionally, hunters have been allowed to continue hunting antlerless deer for nine days, beginning the Saturday after Christmas, while archery and muzzleloader hunts have extended deeper into January. If the Commission ends all hunting Jan. 1, rules would need to be changed for archery and muzzleloader hunts.

Commissioners had floated two options in March to seek the public's preference for firearm antlerless hunting. They ultimately selected an option lasting for nine consecutive days following the 16th day of the East River deer season. This year, the statewide antlerless season would be Dec. 8-16.

An option not selected would have had the season run from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator for the state Wildlife Division, said commissioners selected the first option because hunting season starts earlier West River and they wanted to wait until the East River season closed, creating a short break before antlerless hunting.

In the mid-1990s, when deer were abundant, antlerless season lasted the entire month of January, Switzer said Monday. Six years ago, the season was shortened to Jan. 15.

"Commissioners were hearing a lot of comments from hunters and the public about the number of shed bucks—bucks that had already shed their antlers—being harvested," Switzer said. Hunters also had raised concerns about excessive hunting pressure.

In response, Jan. 1 was offered for the end of hunting, he said. It would probably be cleaner to end all hunting on Dec. 31, Switzer said, but Jan. 1 is a holiday, a time people spend with family and friends.

"We're in a good spot right now with our deer populations," Switzer said. "We're really seeing things turn around for white-tailed and mule deer."

White-tailed and mule deer populations, however, still are not where they were in the mid-2000s, when habitat conditions and winter weather favored deer survival.

Land placed in conservation reserve has decreased, reducing habitat, and for three years the weather has not contributed to overwinter survival. Meanwhile, there were significant outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease in 2012 and 2016, Switzer said.

The GF&P Commission will consider adopting these and other proposals following a public hearing during its meeting at Creekside Lodge in Custer State Park on May 3-4. Information about the proposed antlerless season and options for public comment should be available on the GF&P website by the end of this week.