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South Dakota deer hunters will face licensing changes

DEADWOOD — Many hunters wanting to pursue deer in South Dakota with firearms next year will go through a different state licensing system. And some 3,500 more hunters could be in the field as a result.

The changes apply to hunters seeking licenses in 2019 for the Black Hills, West River, East River and muzzleloader seasons.

Those hunters will have to seek the single license each prefers, rather than apply for all four as they currently can.

They eventually could still receive as many as nine licenses for the four seasons. But they would have to do so through additional drawings and a final first-come first-served.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission adopted the changes Friday. “Passes unanimously,” Chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said.

The commission held a public hearing Thursday and heard some hunters ask that special-buck licenses be put back into the combined pool too.

Adding another 2,200 licenses wouldn’t change the odds “a whole lot,” Kevin Robling, special projects coordinator for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, told commissioners Friday.

But Robling noted applications for special buck likely would increase “significantly” if special buck remained outside the proposed changes. Special-buck licenses are for use only on private land and are distributed through separate drawings.

Commissioners stuck with their plan on a 7-0 vote.

“I think it’s our responsibility to vote on this the way it is right now,” Commissioner Scott Phillips of rural New Underwood said.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown seconded Phillips’ motion. “I think this is a reasonable approach to try to get more deer hunters in the field,” Sharp said. “I think this is a good effort and I’m comfortable with what we’re moving forth with.”

Commissioner Cathy Peterson of Salem said the department has made “an amazing effort” with the original proposal in July and revising it after the commission’s September hearing in Yankton.

“A vote for this isn’t against our seasoned hunter. It’s a vote for getting more in the field,” Peterson said.

Commissioner Mary Anne Boyd of Yankton said the changes would increase the number of hunters in the field. Through a question, Boyd suggested evaluating the effects in a “reasonable” time frame.

Robling said the department’s deer-management plan comes up for consideration again 2021 and biologists would have three years of draw data.

Commissioner Russ Olson of Wentworth said shooting sports are losing participants every year. Olson said the changes would potentially make South Dakota’s licensing process more enticing to hunters who’ve left and to new hunters.

“I think it’s been reasonable. I think it’s been put together well,” Olson said. He added that he wants to hear from people in a year or two about their experiences.

In 2017 there were 52,130 hunters who applied for one or more of the four seasons covered by the changes. Robling said 35,706 applied for one season, while 690 applied for four, 3,716 sought three and 12,018 sought two.

Robling calculated that 21,520 applications would be removed under the changes. He said the proposal would increase every hunter’s chances of drawing a first-choice license and an estimated 3,500 more hunters would take the field.

The overall goal is to provide all deer hunters “a better chance” of drawing their first-choice license, he said.

Leftover licenses can be picked up in the third draw and later when any remaining would be open to all, according to Robling.