In the 1900s hunting seasons established by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks Commission allowed deer populations to recover from historic lows. Deer hunting seasons have occurred regularly since the 1950s, with deer hunters harvesting approximately 95,000 deer during the recent record year of 2010.
White-tailed deer and mule deer are the most highly sought after big game species in South Dakota and throughout North America. Hunting remains the number one tool for managing deer populations across South Dakota and harvest strategies are intended to ensure the well-being of the species and its habitat while maintaining populations at levels compatible with human activity and land use.
For the past two years, GF&P and the GF&P Commission have been working on alternative drawing structures with the end goal of getting more people in the field each year. Hundreds of public comments were received throughout this process and, at times, became very contentious. The commission made several proposal considerations and adjustments based on public input, and a new structure was ultimately adopted.
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In the spring of 2019 the GF&P Commission finalized rules that allow applicants to apply for two of the six firearm deer seasons in the first draw — East River Deer/Special Buck, West River Deer/Special Buck, Refuge Deer, Muzzleloader Deer, Refuge Deer and Custer State Park Deer.
Before this change, applicants would apply for all deer seasons at once. Now, applicants who are successful for drawing two licenses in the first draw cannot apply for additional licenses until the third draw, and only in those seasons they do not already hold a license.