Jul. 8—SPEARFISH, S.D. — Two petitions to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) Commission that seek to cap non-resident archery tag allotments for non-resident deer and antelope hunters will be reconsidered in December after healthy debate from the public led commissioners to request a more thorough study.
At the GF&P Commission's regular meeting, held in Spearfish on Thursday and Friday, commissioners heard just shy of an hour of hearty testimony both in favor and opposition of two petitions, both of which were submitted by the South Dakota Bowhunters Inc. (SDBI).
The petitions call for instilling a cap for non-residents of one archery buck antelope and one any archery deer tag issued for each out-of-state applicant on the condition the applicant also purchases a non-resident small game license. The proposal would also cap the total issuance of non-resident archery buck antelope tags at 200 and non-resident archery any deer tags at 2,000.
Dana Rogers, who submitted both petitions on behalf of the SDBI, derived the 200 and 2,000 figures from rifle licenses issued in 2021, which allows for only 8% of all rifle licenses to be issued to non-residents.
"According to GF&P's 2021 archery surveys, there were 3,019 single-tag archery antelope licenses issued (2,142 resident and 877 nonresident). That extrapolates to 41% of all resident archery antelope licenses," Rogers wrote in the petition. "If we held to the 8% de facto standard that firearms seasons use to allocate for non-residents, we should only be issuing 171 NR archery antelope permits. So this proposal's limit of 200 NR permits is well in excess of the 8%."
Another issue Rogers pointed to was overcrowding, or pressure, on public hunting lands, which he said is caused by a swift growth in out-of-staters coming to South Dakota to hunt.
"According to the SD GF&P statistics, from 2012 to 2021 non-resident archery permit sales have skyrocketed by 87% from 3,128 permits in 2012 to 5,851 permits in 2021. South Dakota has become a very popular destination with non-resident archery hunters with progressively more hunters coming each year," Rogers wrote. "The increased number of non-residents has caused significant pressure and overcrowding on many public lands and they have also harvested an increasing number of mule deer. With the numbers listed it would limit NR archers significantly, but not unfairly."
A third petition, also submitted by Rogers, called for a price increase on non-resident deer or antelope one-tag licenses from $280 to $500.
Joel Murano, a lifelong bowhunter from Aberdeen, kicked off the open forum, testified in favor of all three petitions, adding it wouldn't solve every problem, but that some change was needed.
"It's not that I think they're perfect or that they'll solve all the problems, and I want to be clear, bow hunters in South Dakota aren't against non-residents, but it's been very apparent over the last few years that there needs to be some reform around non-resident archery and deer," Murano said. "It doesn't take very long to go online on YouTube and view archery antelope hunts, and most of them are advertised in the northwest part of the state. Other states are becoming much higher drawing for tags, and South Dakota has become a hidden gem that's been found by non-residents, not only because of the opportunity our lands offer, but also the cost."
Multiple speakers, including many who have bow hunted in Harding County in recent years, all pointed to a surge of non-residents impacting their hunts by overcrowding public lands in the northwestern corners of the state.
"Last year was my first year antelope archery hunting. I was in Harding County the night before opening day. ... I found almost no field approaches that weren't swarmed with out-of-state hunters already on property," said Brandon Lambert, a South Dakotan who didn't provide his hometown. "It did make it very difficult to have a quality experience, especially on my first time out, and just the pure numbers of out-of-state to resident license plates in field approaches was astronomical."
Jim Dahlberg, a resident of Hot Springs, said he's been hunting almost exclusively with a bow since 1964, and said the disproportionate numbers of out-of-state hunters are causing a big impact on herd numbers of mule and antelope in his area.
"I'm convinced that non-resident hunters are making a big impression on our herds in that area. When I go to those areas, particularly on public lands ... in recent years, I've seen a huge influx of non-resident hunters. I can see where and how they're hunting," Dahlberg said. "I truly believe that we need to have some type of restrictions on non-resident archery hunters. I'm not against non-resident hunters, because obviously I hunt in other states too, but I have to abide by what they put down for their restrictions, including the amount of money I have to spend, including hunting in specific areas — all things non-residents don't have to do in our state."
One of two individuals to speak against the proposal was D.J. Loken, a resident from Kirksville, Missouri, who regularly hunts in South Dakota. He felt that, while a reduction in non-resident tags is necessary, the proposal was too drastic.
"I've been hunting in the great state of South Dakota since I went to college there in 2012. Since that time, hunting as a non-resident for the last five years, I have seen an increase in people, [but] and in all reality, this last year was the first real instance of crowding that I ran into, and the quality of my hunts every single year are phenomenal" Loken said. "I don't disagree that there shouldn't be a cap, but capping [non-resident archery deer tags] at 2,000 is drastically too low. In 2012, there were 3,100 non-resident archery deer license holders. Why are we going to one-third of that number? A lot higher number would be much more acceptable, unless the 525 mule deer bucks harvested is a biological issue."
Though nine of the 11 who spoke on the petitions testified in support, most agreed that this wouldn't be a final solution to the issue, and more action was needed down the road, something that drew the attention of GF&P Director of Wildlife Tom Kirschenmann.
"It doesn't take long to figure out that there are multiple opinions, different interests and different desires when it comes to opportunities when we talk about hunting fishing and outdoor recreation, and this particular example certainly holds that true," Kirschenmann said, acknowledging the concerns of those who spoke in favor of the petitions. "The petitions in front of you are an alternative or an approach to addressing those issues that are out there. ... We also believe there could be other alternatives or other options as well that could address these issues that quite honestly merit some further discussion and consideration as well."
Kirschenmann suggested the commission provide his staff with a work period to explore further avenues, including but not limited to those brought forth by the already discussed petitions, to address issues of overcrowding and disproportionate tag distribution.
The commission voted unanimously to deny all three petitions and to grant the department additional time to work with "affected parties, petitioners and advocacy groups to bring back a menu-item of acceptable changes to the current status quo."
The topic will next be addressed by the commission at its December meeting.