In 2018 and 19, the Black Hills elk hunting season could see some changes.
There is a proposal before the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks commissioners that will be voted on during their meeting April 5, that would decrease the number of licenses available for both any elk and anterless elk.
The proposal calls for 425 any elk and 700 anterless elk licenses to be allocated for all of the Black Hills in each of the next two years. This is a decrease from the 443 any elk and 1,150 anterless elk licenses that were available last year.
“Our current population objective for the Black Hills is 6,000 elk. For the winter of 2018, we estimate that we’d have approximately 6,900 elk,” GF&P regional terrestrial resources supervisor John Kanta said. “We look at what will happen to the population with that current license allocation, and it showed that we’d have a declining population and would put us more at that lower end, closer to 6,000. What we’d like to do is stabilize that population and get it right around to 7,000.”
In the past few years, the population of elk in the Black Hills has been more than 7,000, and Kanta said that is the reason there were 450 more anterless elk licenses issued last year.
“We were putting a lot of pressure on that population through hunter harvest, and that was intentional,” he said. “You could say we achieved our goal, we brought the population down to around 7,000, and now we’re hoping to maintain that population.”
Kanta said the reason the proposal calls for the steep reduction of anterless licenses is the same as with many species. Keeping a high female population is important to maintaining population numbers at a manageable level.
“The biggest impact we have on the population is the harvest of cow elk, or female elk,” he said. “ That significant reduction in anterless elk licenses will back of the harvest and allow the population to stabilize.”
The reduction in licenses is proposed for all of the Black Hills, not necessarily in one unit.
Kanta said that in the largest unit, unit two in the central hills for example, the number of licenses allocated will remain the same while in unit three in the southern hills
“Across the Black Hills we have units where we want to increase, decrease, and somewhere we want to maintain,” he said. “That overall reduction is mostly in unit two, but in some areas we didn’t reduce licenses at all, and in some we introduced more anterless licenses, so if our goal is to decrease or maintain we may have kept them the same and maybe added some more in."
Fewer opportunities may not be welcome news to hunters, but Kanta said he thinks ultimately hunters understand it's good for the population.
"If you were to ask more hunters, they like more opportunity, so they're probably not 100 percent in favor of reducing licenses," he said. "We have some really good data on the elk population, and we put that to work to make really good, sound biological decisions. While they may not like the reduction in opportunity, they may have faith that we're managing the population with the best available information."