Wildlife managers in South Dakota believe the states deer population is growing too slow and have recommended the state issue fewer deer hunting licenses in 2017 and 2018.  (file photo)

South Dakota’s deer population isn’t growing as fast as state wildlife officials would like. 

Andy Lindbloom, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department senior big game biologist, said the department still is trying to grow the deer populations in most of the state’s hunting units. That, he said, is why department staff, last week, recommended reductions in the number of firearm deer tags for both the 2017 and 2018 deer seasons.

“We’re still in the rebuilding phase,” Lindbloom said.

Under the East River season proposal for 2017 and 2018, there would be 18,870 buck tags available. That’s down about 5 percent from the 2016 total of 19,955 buck tags. The number of doe tags, meanwhile, would be reduced to 12,715 from 22,100 in 2016, a roughly 44 percent cut.

The West River season would have 16,175 buck licenses and about 5,805 doe licenses available to resident hunters. There also would be 1,497 nonresident licenses available. Those numbers represent a 2 percent drop in the number of buck licenses and a 33 percent drop in the number of doe licenses.

Lower deer numbers were reflected in the harvest rates seen in both the East River and West River regions in 2016. East River hunter success was about 44 percent, down from around 50 percent in 2015. West River hunter success in 2016 dropped to about 53 percent from around 60 percent in 2015.

The lower harvest rates, combined with fewer fawns being observed as surviving into adulthood and lower over-winter survival in many areas, led to last week’s season recommendations, Lindbloom said.

The situation, especially in the portion of the state east of the Missouri River, was compounded last year by one of the largest outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease the state has seen in the last 10 years.

Lindbloom said around 2,300 deer were reported dead from the disease in 2016. The outbreak prompted GF&P to pull 1,251 licenses from the second round of license drawing and to give hunters the chance to return their tags. About 1,800 licenses were returned, Lindbloom said.

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