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A white-tailed buck stands in a field near state Highway 87 in Custer State Park. 

Chris Huber, Journal staff

PIERRE | The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission gambled on the unknown Friday, changing the odds for how hunters are chosen for 36 sets of licenses.

The new approach cubes — or multiplies to the third power — what are known as preference points. 

Hunters accumulate preference points when their names aren’t drawn by lottery for a specific license type. People with preference points have a great chance of drawing a license the next year.

The goal of the change is to give a greater statistical advantage to people who have accumulated more preference points. Under the adopted plan a hunter with two points would now get two to the third power preference points or eight. 

Hunters sometimes complained after they applied and didn’t get a license, especially those wanting a chance for trophy bucks or bull elk or bighorn sheep. 

The new system gives significant weight to hunters who have accumulated points for several years. Take the example of one hunter with a two preference points under the current system. When those points are cubed the result is eight points. But say that hunter had four preference points under the current system. The resulting cubed number would be 64 points. 

Commissioners received 440 pages of comments about the proposed change.

On Friday none of the commissioners or any GF&P staff on hand seemed to know how or when South Dakota began preference-point drawings.

“I shouldn’t have asked,” Barry Jensen of White River said. He is commission chairman.

No one admitted keeping score, either, for which side finished ahead in the comments.

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The complicated task of explaining the change fell on department official Scott Simpson. He showed commissioners some examples of how odds changed. Each time, the statistics depended on the number of applicants, how many preference points were in play and the number of licenses available. 

As for comments, Simpson said many didn’t fit into specific ‘for’ or ‘against’ categories. Jensen agreed. Their impressions were that comments ran stronger for the change. Jensen said that also seemed true from what he’d personally heard.

“More people I talked to were in favor of it than not,” he said.

The commissioners voted five to zero for the plan. Three weren’t there.

“It’s approved,” Jensen declared. He gave a little shrug.

“We’ll see what happens with that, I guess.”

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Managing editor

Chris Huber is the managing editor at the Rapid City Journal.