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SD seeking more successful deer hunts

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department recently released its deer management plan for public review. Submitted photo

PIERRE, S.D. — With the development of a statewide management plan, finding a deer may become easier for East River hunters.

For the first time, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department is developing a management plan for white-tailed and mule deer. The recently released plan identifies objectives and strategies to support South Dakota's deer population through 2023.

One of the biggest aspects of the plan is the establishment of target harvest success rates, or the percentage of license holders who harvest a deer, according to Andy Lindbloom, GF&P senior big game biologist.

"We've never identified a threshold for our deer units," Lindbloom said. "I think there's definitely some potential (hunters) who will notice some difference."

The firearm success rate in the Black Hills has steadily increased since the 1990s, according to the management plan, topping out at more than 70 percent in 2015.

But success rates for East and West River deer seasons haven't followed that trend. The East River firearm success rate has slowly fallen since a high near 90 percent in the 1970s. It was about 50 percent in 2015, the most recent year data was available for the plan.

West River success rates have hovered between 40 and 60 percent in recent years. Now, GF&P has identified a minimum target success rate of 60 percent in areas across the state, except three limited access units, where it targets an 80 percent success rate.

To increase the number of successful hunts, the state needs to increase the population of deer herds. GF&P identified Davison, Hanson and Hutchinson as three of six counties across the state to substantially increase the white-tailed deer population, according to the report.

Miner, Sanborn, Jerauld, Aurora, Brule, Buffalo and Gregory Counties, and parts of Lyman County, are among areas where GF&P hopes to maintain current populations. In much of the rest of the state, GF&P hopes to slightly increase white-tailed deer populations.

Mule deer, located primarily in western South Dakota, have also been targeted to grow. All of western South Dakota is slated for substantial increases in mule deer populations.

Lindbloom said GF&P's best tool to promote growth is decreasing harvest rates on does. That can be done by decreasing the number of licenses issued, and statewide white-tailed doe harvest has already dropped significantly, falling from about 40,000 in 2010 to less than 20,000 in 2015, the management plan says, while buck harvest remained about the same. Mule deer doe harvest took an even sharper drop.

The proposed plan contains 9 objectives:

• Maintain, manage, establish and protect deer habitat,

• Manage populations with science-based biological surveys,

• Manage populations for maximum and quality recreational hunting opportunities,

• Work with landowners to resolve depredation to crops, supplies and other property,

• Monitor and evaluate risks of disease,

• Provide access to private and public land for quality hunting opportunities,

• Engage the public on research and management needs,

• Promote awareness of management needs and challenges,

• And work with municipalities and other agencies to manage urban deer and vehicle collisions.

The plan was created by 20 GF&P officials but was placed under year-long scrutiny by a stakeholder's group made up of 27 members from various interest groups and geographic locations who met five times to discuss the document.

Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, was a member of the board. He hopes the management plan helps licenses be distributed more fairly, and one option is to allow hunters to only apply for a rifle or archery license, instead of getting tags for every unique season.

"I just don't think the deer population can sustain that any longer," Hesla said.

Hesla said stakeholder meetings were productive, with commercial hunters, private landowners and agriculture advocates coming together to discuss the issues.

GF&P continues to seek public input until April 16, and the plan will be submitted to the GF&P Commission for approval in May. Comments may be sent to 523 E. Capitol Ave. or