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The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission accepted a proposal to change the way firearms deer hunting licenses are allocated to the states hunters. (File photo)

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission, on Wednesday, accepted a proposal aimed at making “monumental” changes to the way the state allocates deer hunting licenses.

After holding nine separate focus group meetings in nine cities across the state, GFP Department staff recommended a change that would force the state’s deer hunters to pick one of seven major firearms deer hunting seasons as their only choice for the first license draw every year. Drawings for the Black Hills, West River, East River, Custer State Park, Refuge, special buck and muzzleloader deer hunting seasons would be conducted on the same day.

Only hunters who weren’t successful would be allowed to apply for a license in the second drawing, which is how the current system works for each of the deer seasons.

For the third drawing, all resident hunters would be able to apply for any remaining licenses, so hunters who wanted multiple licenses would have the opportunity. Nonresidents could apply for any licenses left over from existing 8-percent nonresident license allocation in the West River and Black Hills regions.

A fourth drawing would pool any remaining licenses together and would be open to both residents and nonresidents.

The goal of changing the licensing system, Kevin Robling, GFP special projects coordinator said, is to get more hunters their preferred license more often.

“Supply is not meeting demand,” Robling said during Wednesday’s GFP Commission meeting in Pierre.

South Dakota uses a lottery drawing system to allocate a limited number of deer hunting licenses. Right now, every South Dakotan over the age of 12 can apply for all seven of the state’s limited-issue deer hunting licenses during the first drawing, when the most licenses are available.

That often means many hunters don’t draw the deer hunting license they want every year. Sometimes they’ll go multiple years without drawing the license they want. In 2017, there were 52,622 resident hunter applications for a total of 35,522 available licenses. Success during the first draw was about 46 percent.

First draw success rates of below 50 percent for the last several years has led to frustration on the part of many deer hunters. Deer license allocations, Robling said, were one of the biggest concerns identified while the department was crafting its deer management plan in 2016 and 2017. Robling has been leading the department’s efforts to study potential changes to the deer hunting license allocation system for the last several months.

The proposal would primarily impact limited-issue licenses that allow hunters to take bucks.

In 2017, more than 57,689 people, both residents and nonresidents, applied for a limited-issue deer hunting license. Most of the applicants, 40,317 or roughly 70 percent, applied for only one of the seven limited-issue licenses available in the state.

Under the proposal, hunters would still be able to accumulate preference points for each of the seven licenses affected by the change. The points would continue to be unique to each license type. For example, points for the East River deer season would only be used when a hunter successfully draws an East River license. Preference points improve a hunter’s odds of drawing a license. They cost about $5 and can only be purchased once per year.

Archery deer hunting licenses, licenses that allow hunters to hunt antlerless deer with a muzzleloading rifle and licenses that allow new hunters to hunt antlerless deer with a rifle are not limited-issue.

The GFP Commission will hold two separate public hearings on the proposal before taking a final vote on whether to approve it. The first hearing will be held during the commission’s meeting in Yankton on Sept. 6 and 7. The second hearing and vote is scheduled for the commission’s meeting in Deadwood on Oct. 4 and 5.

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