Three cold hours in a hunting blind waiting for a gobbler to walk through a shooting lane would be discouraging. To be further challenged by the limitations associated with archery tackle and then finally losing your guide to the cold would have put most hunters in retreat, but not Nate Schneider. He told Maggie, his guide, that he would meet her back at the horses and that he would just take a peek into one more draw.
Spring turkey season started on Saturday for archery enthusiasts across the state. With the mountain lion season now officially running all of the way into March, there are only two months left in the year without a big game season open in South Dakota.
To have hunters afield is great for business, but it also brings added pressure to wildlife and landowners. One of the most disturbing comments I noted coming from the last Game, Fish, and Parks listening session held in Rapid, was an attack on landowner licensing for big game.
Bull elk tags are one of the most coveted licenses in South Dakota. Landowner preference awards half of these tags to the people who bear the brunt of elk resource damage. The term “damage” is often associated with financial loss. Elk destroy crops and fences and these harms are easy to quantify. When hay is selling for $100.00 a ton and a herd of elk eats a ten ton stack, it is easy to do the math. In many states, landowners are legally allowed to defend their property from such damage. Landowners don’t have to tolerate the abuse and can apply for depredation hunts that reduce or eliminate the animals. In my area one landowner has taken the law into his own hands and personally eliminated many animals that have been damaging his property.
Hunters might wish that landowner would take the time to go to the trouble to call the state, have an officer come out and assess the damage, request that a depredation pool of hunters be assembled, and that the offending animals be removed to the benefit of the hunting populace. But in reality, a landowner can often solve the problem immediately and not have to suffer the associated problems that come from handling a hunting population that he has no firsthand knowledge of. It is offensive to imagine big game animals being shot and left to waste. But increasingly, dealing with the public is seen as a greater burden than wildlife.
The rural landscape is changing hands. Many of the new landowners, have purchased property with the express intention of managing and enjoying wildlife. Studies of land values often place wildlife and recreation values far above many traditional ranching practices. Crops will always be worth money, but increasingly the landscape is being divided into a patchwork of areas that harbor wildlife sanctuaries set aside as private preserves. Some landowners don’t allow any hunting, while others allow only paying hunters or family.
The remaining few landowners who allow access are besieged as a result of their generosity; punished by late-night phone calls from strangers, angry neighbors who want to know why “your” hunters are trespassing, and property damage and litter associated with an urban population that doesn’t know the etiquette of rural life.
To have hunters publicly picking fights with ranchers is bad for wildlife for three reasons; they need not tolerate either, they enjoy a good fight, and they own the playing field.
Nate ended up taking a great mature gobbler with his bow. He did so only after acquiring access from a private landowner. A temporary reduction in licenses shouldn’t cause the hunting public to bite the hand that feeds big game. It doesn’t make sense for South Dakota’s hunting future.