After a lot of discussion about changing deer license plans in 2018, South Dakota is working on a revised deer hunting license allocation plan.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks is rolling out an updated plan that seeks to compromise for hunters seeking to hunt multiple seasons in the same year, while also allowing for family hunting traditions to continue.
The primary change is to allow a hunter to apply for two of the six deer seasons on the first draw, which will include East River, West River, Black Hills, muzzleloader, refuge and Custer State Park licenses. GF&P Special Projects Coordinator Kevin Robling said that should address one of the main complaints about proposed changes previously: that hunters would have a reduced chance of being able to hunt East River and West River in the same season, for example.
"This would allow them to do just that," Robling told The Daily Republic this week. "Put any two applications in that first draw, whether it's East River with Black Hills, or West River and Custer State Park, or whatever it might be."
Special buck license holders, which is the seventh season option available to hunters, which are picked earlier in the year for West River and East River, are limited to one additional application in the first draw as long as the season is different from their special buck license.
"If they don't draw a special buck, they can still submit two applications in the six-season draw," Robling said.
South Dakota had 53,525 hunters in 2018 that applied for at least one of the seven deer hunting seasons, and 61 percent of those hunters drew at least one license or more. Robling said the changes will have the largest impact on applicants who apply for three or more seasons. That included 6,344 hunters in 2018, and they'll be limited to two applications in the first round. Last year, those 6,344 hunters accounted for more than 22,000 applications.
By limiting those hunters to two first choices, that would take out 9,604 applications from the draw buckets, Robling said. In that instance, he said, it frees up 1,058 licenses that could go to a hunter that was otherwise unsuccessful in the current allocation system. Overall, the pool of about 81,000 applications would be reduced by about 10,000.
"The goal was to get as many hunters a deer license as possible," he said. "If there's a person that might have four and this person has zero, maybe we try to even that out a little. ... We're freeing up about 1,000 licenses and everyone's draw probabilities are a little better in that case."
Among the deer hunting seasons, East River had the highest number of applicants in 2018, with 32,698 applications, followed by West River (21,116), Black Hills (13,929) and muzzleloader (8,195).
GF&P is in the process of rolling out the plan, and reaching out to potential hunters to make them aware of the changes. It will accept public comments through Feb. 28 regarding the current proposal. From there, the plan will advance to the Legislature's interim rules committee.
If it's approved there, Robling said the goal is to have the new allocation method in place for the upcoming 2019 hunting season, with the initial draw deadline for the six seasons scheduled for mid-June. If it's not approved, everything essentially rolls back to the beginning and a new proposal would need to be formed and taken through the process.
GF&P says they expect the new plan would be revenue neutral, with roughly the same number of deer licenses being sold, but identified a few potential downsides. The department noted that they could lose some revenue because fewer people might purchase preference points and fewer nonresident licenses would be sold. Nonresident hunters remain eligible for 8 percent of the allotment for West River, Black Hills and refuge licenses during the first draw.
"It's going to increase everyone's odds of selecting their preferred season and license and we're hoping it will lead to less unsuccessful hunters," Robling said.
After the first round of draws, the second round is meant to give other hunters a chance at getting two licenses before other hunters get their third, fourth or fifth licenses. Robling also said there's better chances for resident hunters in the third and fourth rounds of the draw. For example, in the third draw, a resident hunter - even if they have two licenses - can submit one application for each season they don't possess a license. In the fourth draw, resident hunters can submit as many as five applications.
Once the fifth round begins, all leftover resident and nonresident licenses are pooled and are first come, first serve.
The preference point system will also remain mostly intact. Hunters would be allowed to use preference points to acquire leftover licenses for both their first and second choice through the third draw. The plan also incentivizes youth preference points, with free points for youth under age 15 for that calendar year and youth ages 12-15 will get a bonus point when they apply for a license.
So far, Robling and the GF&P have heard plenty about this new plan, as well, with more than 500 comments since the GF&P Commission first passed the allocation proposal Jan. 11. If finalized, the commission said in January it intends to conduct a comprehensive review of the changes in three years.
"The acceptance of this has been more positive," Robling said. "We're getting a lot of comments and folks are supporting this compromised approach. There's people that liked the first proposal, as well. It has changed a lot, that there's still some folks that are still trying to get a handle on it, and we want them to get a chance to give it a look."