The Rub Line: Engaging on deer management

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By Dana R. Rogers

Over the past 10 months or so, concerned South Dakota deer hunters, landowners and personnel from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department have engaged in working groups and meetings to provide input for the state’s new deer management plan. A draft of the management plan was made available to the public in early March by GFP and will be finalized in some form in early June.

The vast majority of the draft plan is a historical account of seasons, harvest rates, habitats, and breakdowns of different sections of the state and weapon season structures.

And while those data points are interesting, the real concern that has made several deer hunters uneasy are the social issues included in the draft plan. These factors, which are not biologically driven, include subjects such as weapon allocations, limiting the number of either-sex licenses an individual can possess, or increasing nonresident opportunities and the resulting pressure that puts on resident deer hunters.

Getting more involved with a few great state organizations and groups such as the South Dakota Wildlife Federation and their Camo Day at Pierre, the South Dakota Bowhunters Inc., and the South Dakota Big Game Coalition, among others, would be a great way for any concerned deer hunter to help get informed, involved and try to effect positive change. Over the off-season these organizations lobbied in Pierre against many bills that were nothing more than efforts to further commercialize our public wildlife resources. These organizations are working hard on behalf of resident hunters and our wildlife resources.

Attending GFP Commission meetings for public testimony on the deer management issues was another step I took to become more informed and engaged. In Watertown in April and at Custer State Park in May, there were public testimony opportunities for hunters, but, sadly, few took the time. GFP received several public comments through e-mail, though, and will take those into account. During these meetings with members of GFP, the organizations I previously mentioned took the time to create a dialogue and express concerns and possible solutions to many of the issues being addressed by the commission.

Obviously, state managers deal more prominently with specific biological facts, numbers and habitat conditions. The heavy and tense discussions or “preferences” pushed back and forth between many hunters isn’t necessarily the focus. In other words, state wildlife managers deal with biology and trying to find that sweet spot between landowner tolerance and hunters’ wishes. Wildlife management isn’t necessarily an issue given adequate resources like good habitat, favorable weather and low impacts of disease and predation. Obviously, that is rarely the case, so here are a few takeaways I noted from the meetings that you may find informative.

Cynthia Longmire, from the GFP’s human dimensions and harvest surveys program, discussed recent hunter survey data and how that helps drive future plans and improvements. GFP expressed confidence in the metrics used, and the sampling sizes were more significant than I had previously thought. They surveyed 100 percent of nonresident bowhunters, and most other seasons have survey ranges between 25-40 percent. The survey response rates were in the neighborhood of 80 percent, which is a very good return in comparison to most other states. They stressed how important it is for all hunters to complete these surveys as the input received is critical to the current and future management of our resources.

Andy Lindbloom, GFP senior big-game biologist, addressed harvest statistics, and he detailed increases or decreases in the annual take in specific areas and weapon season differences. New information and plans to increase, maintain or decrease whitetail or mule deer populations in specific areas was also discussed, and, as a result, hunters will likely see a significant decrease in overall tag numbers in many areas across the state. The total numbers of hunters in the field with permits may not change much, but the numbers of double tags and a sharp decrease in antlerless tags will be noticed in much of the state.

During his harvest presentation, I found one statistic quite interesting. Many resident hunters have been concerned about the impact the unlimited nonresident archery permits have. As suspected, the numbers of nonresident archers hunting the larger public parcels across the state showed up and was clear to me.

One thing I hadn’t known previously ties directly into the limited-entry areas and opportunities resident rifle hunters have versus the impacts of those unlimited nonresident archery permits. As I highlighted in my last Rub Line column, which can be found online at theoutdoorforum.net, there is a total of 200 resident any-deer rifle permits for the Black Hills deer season. Now, remember that 50 percent of those 200 permits are going to qualifying landowners every year. Thus, only 100 resident rifle hunters will draw a Black Hills any-deer permit. During Lindbloom’s harvest presentation, I noted that the nonresident archery mule deer take for the last period collected was 52 mule deer bucks and seven mule deer does. So, it may wind up taking a resident 8-10 years or more to draw a coveted any-deer rifle tag in the Black Hills, but a nonresident bowhunter can get that opportunity every year.

Other topics of discussion where I think we’ll see changes in the near future are an increase in nonresident deer license fees. South Dakota currently lags far behind neighboring states such as Montana and Wyoming in this area, which are comparable states with nonresident whitetail and mule deer archery opportunities. Also, reducing nonresident archery pressure, specifically on public lands, is an area wildlife managers are looking into with more detail. The January deer seasons are a topic of discussion, as well, and so is tweaking hunter surveys to gain more and better detailed information.

The 2017 seasons won’t see much in the way of change in many areas, but with the new deer management plan and hopefully a significant increase in hunters getting involved to provide informed and rational dialogue, I’m hopeful for more positive change in the future.

In closing, one question I would ask anyone who does want to see change is whether you believe the resource and experience are what’s most important, or if you simply care only about what you can get out of it. Just a thought to ponder …

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

About the Author: Deer columnist Dana Rogers grew up in central South Dakota and lives in the Black Hills. Contact him at dana.rogers.1@hotmail.com.