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Some bowhunters call unlimited licenses for non-residents unreasonable

A mule deer buck roams the landscape.
A mule deer buck roams the landscape.

Archery deer season is open and the next four months bring excitement for bowhunters. But around the state, there is also frustration, especially on public land.

Many South Dakota bowhunters say the state's licensing structure is too favorable to out-of-staters.

In 2021, non-resident bowhunters made up 19% of South Dakota's total number of archery deer licenses sold. However, those non-resident hunters took about half of the year's mule deer buck harvest.

It's not just competition for bucks that has public land bowhunters frustrated.

In 2012, the state sold 250 non-resident antelope licenses. That number grew to 877 in 2021.

Additionally, South Dakota is the only state that allows an unlimited number of licenses to non-residents. Resident bowhunters say that results in overcrowded public hunting lands and encourages commercialization of wildlife.

The state also allows an unlimited number of resident bowhunting licenses.

Dana Rogers is a spokesperson with South Dakota Bowhunters Incorporated — a group that represents resident bowhunters. He said they've presented four petitions to limit the number of non-resident licenses over the last six years, but little has changed.

"We live here in South Dakota for a reason. One of the primary reasons is our hunting and fishing, because we don't live here for the weather," Rogers said. "We feel like it should be residents first before any type of non-resident opportunity or commercial interests."

However, hunting guides say limiting the number of licenses sold to non-residents would be bad for tourism.

Ryan Thompson who runs Praire Outfitters in Pierre, said guides are not in competition with resident hunters because they take clients to hunt on private land, not public.

"Our hunters have to have the ability to get a permit to come, and from an outfitter standpoint, where we're on private land, we're really not affecting the public," Thompson said.

However, resident hunters say all hunters are still going after the same limited number of wildlife.

In some western states, non-residents have to apply over multiple years before they get a game hunting license.

GFP Secretary Kevin Robling said he understands the issues resident bowhunters are experiencing.

"I've also seen the anecdotal observations of increased pressure on public lands," Robling said. "I hunt all on public lands, 100% on public lands. And it's real, and so doing nothing isn't an option."

Robling said the state wants to implement changes, but it needs a little more time. That will ensure all interested parties have an opportunity to have their voices heard, according to Tom Kirschenmann, GFP's director of wildlife.

The department and the GFP Commission are committed to having a plan in place by the end of December — one that includes the voices of all invested parties.

That news isn't settling the concerns of South Dakota Bowhunters Incorporated. Their group's president, Justin Broughton, said he worries about a trend where the voices of resident public land hunters are drowned out by landowner and tourism interest groups.

Broughton said that's partly due to the makeup of the GFP Commission, a body chosen by the governor.

"There are very few blue collar type public land hunters on that commission. It's pretty heavily landowner-represented and there are a couple of gentlemen on there, I think, that may even operate preserves," Broughton said. "I don't feel it accurately represents the majority of sportsmen in South Dakota."

Some longtime non-resident hunters said they understand residents' frustrations with the licensing structure. SDPB talked with two non-resident hunters from Wisconsin who both said they would understand adjustments to the state's licensing rules to limit the number of out-of-state bowhunters.

Some conservation groups and hunters say the best solution is to create more public habitat for a variety of uses.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.