Rub Line: Careful what you wish …

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By Dana R. Rogers

In early May I was driving along listening to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission meeting on my way to Idaho to set a few bear baits. I think it’s important to attend these meetings when possible, and, if not, to at least listen to what GFP staff brings to the commission in the way of proposals.
Thinking I have a decent pulse on what is going on through my conversations and contacts, I was pretty shocked to hear two proposals regarding bowhunting in South Dakota. In the first proposal, GFP would like to eliminate the requirement for bowhunter education. We already added online computer-based training for “convenience,” which has significantly curtailed the demand for the hands-on courses we required a few years ago, so this proposal definitely caught me by surprise.
I certainly understand that everyone’s time is valuable with the pace of day to day life. However, I strongly believe that archery hunting is very different than firearms hunting, and that specific training and field work is extremely important and necessary when it comes to preparing new bowhunters.
Currently in South Dakota, youth between the ages of 12-16 are required to complete a HuntSAFE course to obtain a license and take the field while holding a firearm, but young and new bowhunters shouldn’t have to take a class? Even adults and other very experienced hunters often struggle when taking up the challenge of bowhunting, Lord knows I did. Things like treestand safety, animal body position and shot placement to make a quick, clean and humane kill are invaluable lessons that need to be taught. Broadhead-tipped arrows have a pretty limited range, and they kill by hemorrhaging, whereas the round from a high-powered rifle has a shocking power that erases a lot of errors on shot placement. Several years ago when the requirement was established, there were “issues” with archery-elk permit holders and shot placement. Now, mistakes happen, but ensuring that bowhunters know the differences in body composition and stopping power of the inside of an elk vs. a deer or pronghorn are awfully important.
The second shock to my system was the proposal to open archery deer seasons as early as Sept. 1. At face value, that may seem like a fantastic idea to the majority of bowhunters. Think about it: Another three or four weeks of bowhunting and a possible opportunity to target a velvet buck on defined feeding patterns, what’s not to love about that?
Also, many hunters I talk to correctly point out that many western states and a few states that border South Dakota open their seasons much earlier. Minnesota opens Sept. 15 and runs through Dec. 31. Nebraska runs Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. Iowa opens Oct. 1, closes on Dec. 1 for the shotgun seasons, but then reopens Dec. 18 through Jan. 10. North Dakota opens Aug. 31 and closes Jan. 6.
Montana has two different archery-only seasons depending on the unit, from Sept. 1-14 and Sept. 1 through Oct. 14, though you can bowhunt during the general season until Nov. 25 on that one license. Wyoming is also quite diverse with season dates depending on the unit, but their general archery season runs from Sept. 1-30 in most units. You can also hunt during the rifle season, which varies widely on closures from dates in October and the end of November. As with Montana, in Wyoming you get one tag for the most part.
So, what do all these border-states seasons have to do with South Dakota? Not necessarily anything, but I’d like to look a bit deeper and offer some food for thought on this proposal. In Montana and Wyoming, you get one deer tag unless there are unusual circumstances and special depredation-type or antlerless opportunities. It’s also important to keep in mind that archery tags aren’t good in every unit across those states, either.
The other states mentioned above that border South Dakota do offer opportunities to get more than one tag, but they limit them far more than South Dakota does. So, what’s my point in talking about all of this?
Quite simply, I’d like bowhunters in South Dakota to look deeper into the details. Certainly, most of the states mentioned do open earlier than what South Dakota bowhunters have been accustomed to recently. Many other states also have significant restrictions on where you can actually hunt, as well as far fewer overall days allowed. Another thing to keep in mind is that South Dakota currently has no drawing for archery permits for either residents or nonresidents, even though many concerns have been raised by resident bowhunters over nonresident pressure on some of the state’s larger public parcels. These areas include the Black Hills National Forest, Custer National Forest, Fort Pierre National Grassland, Buffalo Gap National Grassland and certain East River game production areas.
So, what would the effects be on these public lands with the combination of unlimited tags for nonresidents and a much earlier opening date? How about the potential increase in the number of outfitting and lease operations in western South Dakota should the opportunity for a deer and antelope combination hunt with over-the-counter permits happen? Bowhunters may also be wise to take note that adding another month to archery season could certainly raise the hunter success rate, a rate that has averaged between 25-30 percent for residents for some time.
So what, you say! Well, recently there has been a lot of discussion about combining all firearms drawings together and giving firearms hunters a first- and second-choice option. My information is that the only thing that has kept archery out of that discussion is the low harvest rate over a much longer season, making bowhunting “biologically insignificant” according to biologists. If a longer season allows for a much higher success rate, then will archery permits be subject to a drawing in the future? Could bowhunters lose time at the end of the season in December, or would rifle-only hunters complain and want another week of hunting in November?
Additionally, deer are much easier to pattern in late summer. Bucks are in bachelor groups and on defined feeding patterns. Sure, the opportunity to hunt a deer in velvet would be a special opportunity, but at what cost?
Now, you may have read all this and come away thinking I’m totally against nonresidents or an earlier archery season, but that’s not the case. My personal opinion is that adding another week or starting the third Saturday in September would be great. I also hunt as a nonresident in many states, so it would be a tad hypocritical of me to blow off these proposals. But, with few exceptions, all of the permits I attempt to build points for and draw are limited in number and have definite restrictions on location. Currently, South Dakota has neither, so to spark a little thought and discussion, I thought I’d raise a few questions.
As always when afield, respect the land, respect the landowner and respect the wildlife.
About the Author: Deer columnist Dana R. Rogers grew up in central South Dakota and now calls the Black Hills home. Contact him with comments or questions at [email protected]