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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission approved changes to the deer hunting licensing system last week that would get more young hunters involved. 

Hoping to get their deer hunting licensing overhaul to the finish line, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission on Friday approved amendments aimed at attracting more young hunters and making licenses for more exclusive to non-resident hunters.

The commission approved its initial proposal in October, which would have restricted applicants in the state’s first and second drawings for deer licenses to submit one application for their preferred season of the state’s most popular: East River, West River, Black Hills or muzzleloader. For the third and fourth drawings, applicants could apply for all four seasons, allowing hunters to possibly get multiple tags.

Under South Dakota’s current deer licensing system, hunters are able to apply for each season separately, potentially drawing licenses for every season — though, the commission noted that this outcome is statistically unlikely.

Commissioners said the problem with the current system is that some applicants can get several first-picks in the first drawing, while others can be left with none, possibly even for several years in a row. Their reformulated proposal aimed to even the playing field so more applicants would get their first picks.

But the new licensing proposal drew sharp criticism from the public, which submitted hundreds of comments to the commission during its public comment period and circulated two petitions against the measure.

Commissioner Russell Olson of Madison said he thought much of this criticism rose from perception that hunters would be “forced to choose” their preferred seasons. In response, he noted that after the first and second drawings, hunters could apply for any season.

He also said South Dakota hunters were concerned that under the new rules, some of their tags would be lost to out-of-state applicants, and that the proposal didn’t do enough to encourage more youth hunters to apply.

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Commissioners on Friday passed an updated version of their original proposal, which Olson said “more than addresses those concerns.”

Under the updated proposal, which passed unanimously, out-of-state applicants cannot apply for licenses until after the fourth drawing, at which point all leftover licenses would be first-come, first-serve.

Commissioners also added an amendment that grants first-time hunters 15 or younger a bonus preference point, and waives the $5 fee for preference points each year up until their 16th birthdays. Youth would be able to start racking up their preference points starting at age 10, so they could likely go into their first hunting seasons with their top-choice seasons and get hooked.

The goal of this was to prevent a future dip in hunting by engaging the next generation of hunters.

“If you’re a 12-year-old kid and you shoot a nice buck your first year ever hunting, we’ve got you forever,” Olson said.

The rule change still awaits a 30-day public comment period, public hearing and the ultimate blessing of the Rules Review Committee before it can take effect. The commission has schedule a public hearing for 2 p.m. CT on Jan. 10 at RedRossa convention center in Pierre. The public can also submit comment online.

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