The Rub Line: Examining the deer stakeholders discussion

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For this column, I’d like to take the first paragraph to make something very clear. I’m not, nor am I attempting to portray myself, as some expert or elitist. However, I will say that I am a passionate deer hunter and wildlife manager.

The primary reason I push these keys to try and form a coherent column is simply because of my love for wildlife. Much of it is often personal thoughts, experiences and perspectives.

My mother was a teacher for 42 years, my sister is a teacher and, for a period of five years in my military service, I was an instructor. I believe in education and sharing knowledge, or, at the very least, I try to share personal experiences that could perhaps spark healthy discussion, debate and hopefully shave the learning curve on a few topics for some.

It’s no secret that deer are the most highly sought after big-game species not only in South Dakota, but also throughout much of North America. Here in South Dakota, residents and nonresidents are eligible to apply for most deer seasons except Custer State Park and East River deer seasons. Nonresidents may only apply for an East River deer license if there are leftovers.

As I touched on the larger subject of the ongoing deer stakeholders conversations a few months ago, I’d like to get into a little more detail on the current proposals being discussed as I become aware of them and time and this column permits. The goal of the state’s deer management plan is to provide strategic guidance on what the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department strives to accomplish regarding deer within the next five years.

The plan will include many topics and guidelines, such as hunting seasons structures and how they are set, as well as harvest goals and strategies. Integral to the plan will be herd population survey information, research projects, habitat management, depredation management, and the many challenges faced by deer, landowners and hunters across the state.

I’ve pushed the initial information I’ve gathered to several other avid South Dakota deer hunters via e-mail and social media, and I hope that conversation will keep growing in order to get as many viewpoints and suggestions as possible. In case you aren’t engaged and have access to the state’s deer management plan website, here is a timeline of its events so far:

• Dec. 15, 2015: Landowner and hunter public-opinion survey’s were mailed out. (I didn’t get one, and I only know one hunter who did. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to complete the survey.)

• January – December 2016: Public stakeholder group meetings. (No listing of location, dates or times.)

• March 2-3, 2017: GFP staff will propose the modified draft of the Deer Management Plan to the SDGFP Commission.

Once the draft plan is proposed, it will be made available for public review and comment. There will be an opportunity for public testimony during the following commission meeting in Brookings on April 6-7, 2017. Public comments will be incorporated into the discussion, and the commission will vote to finalize the draft plan proposal during its May 2017 meeting.

The members of the deer stakeholders group should be made public shortly. Having personally discussed the issue with two of them, I’d like to tackle a few of the current proposals and discussion points to help keep the public informed of the situation in hopes of generating more involvement.

My commentary is based upon my personal experiences as a deer hunter and manager, as a lover of South Dakota’s wildlife, and in the spirit of moving forward with a plan that will help benefit the wildlife and hunters who enjoy the pursuit. Like all issues, discussing the draft deer management plan will bring lots of passion, opinion, and even anger and disgust from some. A plan that involves so many people and such an important resource will never satisfy all interests or variety of people involved.

If you’ve never ventured outside of South Dakota to hunt deer, you may not understand, or care, what opportunities or challenges border-state hunters have or deal with on an annual basis. I say this because some of us have had those experiences and opportunities, and at least one of the proposals being weighed now uses tag draw/opportunity ideals taken from many of our border states, as well as those further west.

The specific topic at hand is the number of tags available to an individual hunter. The argument I’m hearing is that “nobody should be able to draw eight buck tags a year.”

While this may sound reasonable and obvious to some, I’d point out it’s not quite that cut and dried. All South Dakota residents have the opportunity to put in for every license and season they choose to, with no exceptions. Resident deer hunters can pay for a preference point and build points to hunt deer in all of the available units; it’s up to them.

The odds that someone would draw all eight of the separate seasons and units of their choosing in one year on the first draw are astronomical. Sure, if you bowhunt you can get an East River and West River archery tag. You may even be lucky enough to draw your choice of East River and West River rifle permits.

However, I highly doubt that luck can withstand the long odds of drawing a Black Hills rifle or an either-sex muzzleloader tag, much less one of the few Custer State Park or national wildlife refuge permits on top of all that. When the facts are broken down, it’s not as simple as the original statement implies.

The second point of that argument I’m hearing is that it’s unfair that some hunters can acquire so many deer tags each year while other hunters might only put in for one license and, as a result, can only draw a tag once every two or three years. In these cases, if a hunter only chooses to hunt with a rifle and applies for a tag in a low-odds draw unit such as Pennington or Minnehaha counties, for example, they immediately limit their opportunities due to a long-odds proposition.

I hope to delve deeper into the deer stakeholders group and management discussion in future Rub Line columns in upcoming Outdoor Forum issues. If anyone has further interest, I encourage them to get involved and provide comments to SDGFP via e-mail at wildinfo@state.sd.us, or they can e-mail me and I’ll provide as much information as I can.

As always when afield, respect the land, respect the landowner and respect the wildlife.

About the Author: Deer columnist Dana R. Rogers grew up in central South Dakota before joining the U.S. Air Force. He can be reached with questions or comments at dana.rogers.1@hotmail.com.