The South Dakota state legislature’s 2019 session is reaching its crescendo and the Game, Fish and Parks Department is in the thick of things at the Capitol, but the biggest issue in wildlife rulemaking so far this year will be decided on later this month.
The Game, Fish and Parks Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the department’s latest set of proposed changes to how it allocates deer hunting licenses. It’ll actually be the second time the Commission has voted on changing the deer hunting license system. The first set of changes got shot down by the Legislature’s interim rules review committee in November, 2018.
Last month the Commission accepted an entirely new proposal, one that would allow hunters the chance to chase deer on both sides of the Missouri River in a given year. Past plans had drawn the ire of deer hunters who didn’t want to choose which side of the river to apply for a license on.
“If you apply for one or two seasons, nothing will change for you,” said Kevin Robling, special projects coordinator for GFP of the latest proposal.
Robling has been the public face of the department’s push to make the changes. The ultimate goal of the plan, he said, has always been to get more individual hunters in the field every year. Under the current system, hunters have the chance, however slight, to draw as many as six deer hunting licenses that allow the killing of a buck with a firearm. Firearms buck licenses are the most sought after license types and are limited in number based on the state’s deer population.
Because there’s a limited number of licenses, hunters have to apply to draw license in a weighted lottery drawing. Last year 53,524 people submitted 81,494 applications for deer hunting licenses. Just shy of 37,000 applications were successful in the first draw. Because all hunters can apply for each of the state’s six firearms deer hunting seasons, 11,989 hunters applied for at least two seasons and 3,700 hundred of them drew more than one license in the first drawing.
The problem is, Robling said, the more licenses that go to hunters who already have a license in another a season, the fewer individual hunters get a chance to kill a deer. And because of the way the current system works, some hunters can go years without drawing the license they want. The longer someone goes without drawing a license, the more likely they are to quit hunting altogether.
“We want to get more hunters their preferred license more often,” Robling said.
Over the last 10 years, the number of individual deer hunting license applicants has been shrinking, according to GFP licensing data. That’s a big problem for GFP because the department’s wildlife management efforts are funded entirely by hunters through licenses and taxes on guns and ammunition. The fewer hunters there are, the less money there is to conserve and protect wildlife.
Still, the original set of changes met stiff opposition. So, last month the GFP Commission modified it’s proposal. Now, hunters will get to pick two of the state’s six firearms deer seasons to apply for during the first draw. Hunters under the age of 15 will get extra help in drawing a buck license and roughly 1,000 additional individuals are likely to get a chance to hunt deer. That is, if the changes are approved.
“Some folks still think you can only pick one of four seasons,” Robling said. “That is no longer the case.”
Drawing dates for the state’s deer hunting seasons likely will be much earlier too, Robling said. And because the state’s deer management plan is up for review in 2022, any new system for deer license allocation will be reviewed and modified as needed. That would give the new system three years to prove its worth or be discarded.
Here are some of the finer points of the proposed new deer licensing system
How many licenses resident hunters can get and when can they get them
* Hunters can draw up to two licenses in the first draw
* Hunters who draw one license in first draw can apply for one license in the second draw
* Hunters who weren’t successful at all in first draw can apply for two licenses in the second draw
* Hunters can only have two licenses until the third draw
* In the third draw a resident can only apply for a license in a season they don’t already have a license for
* In the fourth draw a resident can apply for up to five additional licenses for a total of up to 11
* After the fourth draw all remaining licenses pooled for residents and nonresidents
What’s up with preference points
* Preference points still can be accumulated for all seasons individually
* Hunters keep all preference points for all seasons they don’t draw a license in
* First time applicants between the ages of 12 and 15 will get a bonus point
* Hunters under the age of 15 get free preference points
* Hunters can use preference points for first and second choice licenses through the third draw
What about nonresidents?
* In the first draw nonresidents can only apply for a license in the West River, Black Hills or Refuge seasons.
* Nonresidents can apply for number equal to 8 percent of available resident licenses in the West River, Black Hills or Refuge seasons until after the fourth draw.
* After the fourth draw, all remaining licenses for all seasons are pooled and sold on a first come, first served basis. Only after the fourth draw would nonresidents have a shot at getting an East River deer hunting license.