Mild winters and a lower-than-desired deer population have left bleak opportunities for depredation hunts across South Dakota in recent years.
Registration for the state’s depredation hunts opened Monday, but the program has not been utilized since the winter of 2010-11, according to Keith Fisk, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks Wildlife Damage Management Program administrator.
GF&P’s Wildlife Damage Management Program assists landowners with wildlife depredation abatement techniques.
When other methods are ineffective to remove animals from an area, GF&P may utilize hunters outside of the traditional hunting season to help reduce damage caused by wildlife, such as severe crop and livestock feed losses that cannot be resolved using non-lethal hazing techniques.
“Every year, there are a lot of people who register for a chance to get selected for a hunt,” Fisk said Monday. “Easily, more than 1,000 people sign up each year.”
People interested in the depredation hunts this year can register for deer, turkey or antelope. They can register for up to 10 counties, and then they are put into a random drawing to determine eligibility, if a depredation hunt is authorized.
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” Fisk said. “The traditional hunting seasons are closed and people are looking for another outdoor experience or opportunity. They throw their hat in the ring and potentially get drawn.”
Though, in recent years, interested hunters haven’t gotten the opportunity to participate in depredation hunts.
In the winter of 2010-11, there were 36 depredation hunts in the state. That year, hunters killed 436 deer on depredation hunts.
“If you remember that winter, there was a lot of deep snow,” Fisk said.
Fisk said large amounts of snow that covers food sources can force deer and other wildlife into landowners’ properties in search of hay and feed supplies.
That’s why depredation hunts are dependent upon the severity of the winter, snowfall accumulations and population of the species.
Depredation hunts can be in any county in the state. They occur after the traditional hunting season is closed, “typically between Jan. 1 to March 1,” Fisk said.
Fisk was unsure whether there would be any depredation hunts this year and declined to name any county that GF&P is considering using the hunt.
“Right now, if I had to look into my crystal ball, it would be a hard one to gauge,” he said. “If we got some significant snowfall that pushed some deer into some yards, I think there could be a few areas that we might have to use a depredation hunt. Most of eastern South Dakota, our deer numbers are lower than we desire right now.”
To register for a depredation hunt, go to the GF&P’s website at gfp.sd.gov/hunting/depredation-hunts.aspx. To apply, a person must be a South Dakota resident and have lived in the state for at least 90 days. However, nonresidents under the age of 18 are eligible, but must be at least 12 years old.