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Deer hunters address concerns surrounding the new SD license proposal

From left to right: Tony Lief, GFP director of wildlife, stands alongside Kevin Robling, a special projects coordinator for the GFP. The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks held a morning and afternoon Q&A session on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron. Sam Fosness / Forum News Service

HURON, S.D.—Deer hunters shared their concerns Saturday surrounding a new deer hunting license proposal from the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks during a Q&A at the State Fair in Huron.

While the new proposal is designed to help increase the number of hunters drawing their preferred firearms deer license, longtime hunter Roger Johnson is opposed to the alternative lottery system, particularly the rule of having to choose one preferred season.

"My preference for putting in a license will be for an East River tag, but I also put in preference for a West River tag, which I have built up numerous years of preference for. And under the new proposal, I would lose those years of preference points," Johnson said.

Johnson, an avid deer hunter living in Pierre, pressed Kevin Robling and Tony Leif of the GF&P on how preference points would be affected under the new proposal, which is another area of concern for Johnson and many of the hunters at the Q&A.

Johnson is one of about 17,000 deer hunters who hunt both East and West River.

Under the new proposal, deer hunters would have to choose one preferred season for their choice of first license draw, instead of applying for numerous preferred seasons at one time like the lottery system allows now.

Hunters are able to purchase preference points when they apply for a deer license, and costs vary on the amount of points a hunter wants to purchase. Those preference points will give a hunter better odds at getting drawn for the next year's deer season in which they built up preference points for.

"I have hunted both sides of the river for years and years," Johnson said. "Under the new proposal, my preference points would be East River. But I would lose those because they would be gone after the first draw."

Under the new proposal, GF&P Special Projects Coordinator Robling said firearm deer hunters could still receive more than one tag in a season, but they would come further down in the draw process, making it more unlikely for hunters to draw multiple preferred licenses.

As stands, there are seven deer hunting firearm seasons in South Dakota, which are Black Hills, West River, East River, Custer State Park, Refuge, special buck and muzzleloader deer season. If the proposal is passed, the drawings for the seasons would take place on the same day.

Leif, director of wildlife with the GF&P, and Robling, provided transparency of the agency's new proposal to the public during the Q&A, laying out statistical facts on why the commission came up with the alternative lottery system.

In 2017, there were 52,622 resident hunter applications for 35,522 available licenses. According to Robling, there was a 46 percent success rate on deer hunters getting a license on their first draw last year.

Mark Mammenga, a firearm deer hunter from Humboldt, S.D., addressed his concerns about how the proposal would impact hunting unit applications.

"If you are unsuccessful when you apply to a unit area that you have no land and no ties to, how would that be of any help for hunters under the new proposal?" asked Mammenga.

Hunting units are boundary areas that deer hunters have to choose from to apply for a deer license to hunt that area, and each county in South Dakota is a hunting unit. Hunting units include private and public land.

Robling responded to Mammenga's question, and said the public land units are always in high demand for deer hunters, particularly the Black Hills, given the fact it is all public deer hunting land. Under the new proposal, this would pose a challenge for deer hunters like Mammenga.

According to Robling, the GF&P has 1.1 million acres of public hunting land.

"There are guys like you and me that are going to have to knock on some doors and get more landowner permission," Robling said in response to Mammenga's question. "It might not be as good of a unit as the one you are used to hunting."

During the hour-long Q&A, a question arose about how archery deer hunting would be affected under the proposal. According to Robling, there are 1,500 state residents that deer hunt by way of archery in East and West River.

Leif, director of wildlife at the GF&P, said the proposal makes no changes on how archery tags are drawn, and he doesn't see that changing.

However, one area of archery deer hunting on the Commission's radar to change is the criteria for a nonresident archery license.

"I don't have exact details of the discussion about nonresident archers, but I know it is being discussed," Robling said. "I'm not sure if they are putting a cap on unlimited nonresident archery hunters, but I can guarantee they are working on the unlimited nonresident archery license process."

Toward the end of the Q&A, Robling thanked all deer hunters who attended and reassured them that the GF&P Commission is listening.

The next step will be for the GF&P Commission to hold two public hearings this week in Yankton at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area. Then on Oct. 4 and 5, the GF&P Commission will make a final vote on whether the proposal will be approved.

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