GF&P to make deer license decision today

October 7, 2018

DEADWOOD – The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission paid attention to a second round of testimony Thursday about whether to make major changes to South Dakota’s system for licensing deer hunters who use firearms.

The comments were just as mixed, some for and some against, as at the commission’s first hearing Sept. 6 at Yankton.

A decision comes today. “I think we should wait until morning,” Commission Chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said.

The commission could further revise its proposal, adopt it as is or set it aside. Any changes would take effect for the 2019 seasons.

More than one dozen hunters went to the microphone for three minutes of comments each Thursday. Commissioner Scott Philips of rural New Underwood conducted the hearing, noting: “There’s a lot of passion on some of these issues.”

Chris Hesla, representing the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the current system isn’t working as well as it should but the latest proposal was “watered down too much.”

“We’d like it all,” Hesla said.

William Lucken of Lead, favored the changes. “We have to keep people interested,” he said.

David Lewton of Rapid City, said he was “totally against” the proposal.

“There’s always an option for a tag,” Lewton said. “They’re acting like, we don’t get our first choice we can’t hunt.” He added, “Looking at social media, most people are against this.”

Currently hunters can apply for licenses in every deer season.

The latest proposal would create one combined drawing for the Black Hills, East River, West River and muzzleloader seasons.

From those four, an applicant would be required to request one license in the first combined drawing.

If the hunter didn’t succeed, she or he could apply in the second drawing.

There would still be additional drawings. Here’s how they would work:

In the third draw, hunters could apply for each season they didn’t succeed in the first or second round;

Nonresidents who didn’t succeed in the first or second round could apply only for a West River or Black Hills license in the third draw;

In the fourth draw, residents could apply for five additional licenses, while nonresidents without a license could apply once; and

After the fourth draw, all remaining licenses would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, with licenses unlimited.

Hunters could use preference points for their first and second choices in the opening three draws.

First-draw applicants would be required to use preference points for their first choices. A hunter who uses preference for a license in a season wouldn’t be allowed to purchase a preference point for that season.

What it means is a resident hunter could get up to nine licenses in the four draws, while a nonresident could have one license.

The commission in July initially wanted to also cover Custer State Park, special-buck tags and refuge seasons.

Kevin Robling, special projects coordinator for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, said in 2017 there were 16,424 hunters who submitted two or more applications for the West River, East River, Black Hills and muzzleloader seasons.

Of those, 3,318 drew two or more first-choice licenses and 256 drew three or more first-choice licenses, Robling said, while 8,146 or 50 percent drew only one license and 29 percent didn’t draw any first-choice licenses.

Under the proposal, a nonresident could get one license through the first four draws.

In 2017 there were 52,130 hunters who applied for one or more of the four seasons. 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 draw every hunter’s chances of drawing a first-choice license and an estimated 3,500 more hunters would take the field.

There will be opportunities to pick up leftover licenses in that third draw, he said. The overall goal is to provide all deer hunters “a better chance” of drawing their first-choice license, he said.

“Really nothing has changed with the use of preference,” he said. Hunters have to purchase a preference point for $5 per season, he said.

Drawings would start in June next year, earlier than the current schedule, because there would be an additional draw, Robling said.

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