The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks announced today that they are seeking input from hunters on potential changes that could be made to the process for drawing deer tags. That input would be given to the department through focus groups that would be drawn at random.

In the email sent out to newsletter subscribers, the GFP said it received feedback that some hunters would like to have a better chance at drawing the tag they really want every year.

Well, don't we all? Here's the text of the email:

Background: Prior to implementing the deer management plan last year, one area that received considerable attention from the public input process was deer license allocation and the discussion around the opportunity to obtain a preferred license on a regular basis. To date, the Department and the GFP Commission have narrowed down the list of potential alternatives to three (one of which is no change to the current license drawing structure). The next step in this process is to present the alternatives and gain input through focus groups.


  • Drawings for East River, West River and Black Hills deer seasons would be at the same time and the applicant would have to choose one of the seasons as their first choice in the first draw.


  • Drawings for East River, West River, Black Hills, National Wildlife Refuge, Custer State Park, and Muzzleloader deer seasons would be at the same time and the applicant would have to choose one of the seasons as their first choice in the first draw.


  • No change.


  • Preference point system would remain in place and you would not lose current points.
  • Landowner preference would remain unchanged.
  • No changes would be made to Archery or Youth Deer.
  • Individuals who received a Special Buck license are not eligible to apply until the third draw period.
  • If changes to the license drawing structure occur, they will go into effect for the 2019 deer hunting season. ​


At face value you might come to one of two conclusions, as I read many people on Facebook groups I'm a member of thought:

#1 - "Great! I'll be guaranteed to hunt bucks in the county of my choice every year!"

#2 - "Well, son of a... I'm not going to get all 72 tags I got last year, those dirty lying check-cashers just take my money and ruin everything..."

You would be wrong on both counts. You won't be able to get the tag you want every year and GFP isn't trying to ruin opportunity. But I would like to know what the real impetus was for these new alternatives to the old system of separate drawings for each season (East River, West River, Black Hills, etc), a system which reeks of logic and reason. Was it the howler monkeys from the more highly populated eastern counties, which have fewer deer, complaining that it isn't fair that they can't hunt bucks in their home county every single year? Probably.

When you live in a unit like Codington County, that sees the landowner tags sell out and only has 125 tags for 667 of us who don't own at least 160 acres of land, you are going wait probably four or five years to hunt. I understand the frustration. It would be nice to hunt deer without getting a hotel or camping. One of the proposed "alternative" drawing systems is not going to draw enough applicants away to make a significant dent in the number of people applying. But for units like that there is no help that will make a difference. Its population is the sixth highest in the state, it has more landowners to go with a smaller than average number of deer on that land.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing at face value. The "alternatives" don't appear to be combining all of the various firearm deer seasons into one that has units of varying dates. The seasons all stay separate. If we can trust the language of the email that only says the "seasons would be at the same time and the applicant would have to choose one of the seasons as their first choice in the first draw," and one could still apply for seasons in the second draw that they have not won a tag in, I don't think this will negatively affect opportunity for those of us who play the numbers game and draw three or more tags every year.

However, if an applicant who successfully draws in the first drawing for the only tag allowed to apply for, and has to wait for the third drawing to apply for anything else, I would be completely opposed to the plan.

There is tons of opportunity to hunt deer in South Dakota. The catch is you may have to drive farther the jurisdiction of your local sheriff to get it. The tags that are easy to get, like my Any Deer tag in Meade County, draws at a rate of 88 percent without a preference point. What I learned is that while the mule deer were plentiful, it's also a tough and rugged place to hunt. I can't wait to go back.

This past Saturday, while waiting in line for the meet-n-greet with author and "Meateater" host Steven Rinella, my friend and I chatted with a twenty-something man from Brookings who hunts all over the country upwards of 65 day every year. Hunting states from Idaho to Arizona, he has learned the statistics and points game for every state he has hunted. I asked him which of all the states offers the overall best opportunity playing the numbers game. His answer: South Dakota.

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