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PIERRE - South Dakota hunters can look back on 2004 as another record setting year for deer harvest.

According to harvest surveys compiled by the Department of Game, Fish and Parks, last year was the all-time highest recorded deer harvest in the state, and the fifth straight year that deer harvest has increased.

Game, Fish and Parks Game Harvest Survey Coordinator Corey Huxoll said that estimates indicate approximately 60,000 white-tailed deer and 14,000 mule deer were harvested during the 2004 hunting seasons, for a total of nearly 74,000 deer. That is an increase of more than 4,000 deer from 2003 and an increase of nearly 28,000 deer since 1999.

"We have harvest records back to 1929, when deer hunting was only allowed in the Black Hills, and for the second straight year hunters have harvested more deer than ever documented in South Dakota," Huxoll said. "An increase in the number of licenses available, the number an individual hunter could possess, season extensions and a decrease in the fees for antlerless licenses appear to have convinced hunters to go out and harvest an extra deer or two."

Overall harvest success was similar to 2003 at 51 percent, and remained high despite an increase in the number of tags issued by nearly 9,000 (3,886 of which were for the East River firearm season). Survey results indicated that there was a 15 percent increase in the West River firearm season doe harvest and a 4 percent increase in the East River firearm season doe harvest for a total increase of more than 2,000 does from 2003. The statewide harvest of whitetail does has doubled from 16,553 in 1999 to 33,192 in 2004.

"The Department is pleased with the continued harvest increase, however we are taking even further steps to increase hunting opportunity with the goal of harvesting even more deer in 2005," Huxoll said. For example, in 2005 all antlerless deer tags issued for the West River season will also be valid during the firearm antelope season in early October. If not filled, they will still be valid during the regular season, the week-long extension just after the regular season and again from Jan. 1-8 of 2006. Even the Black Hills antlerless deer licenses will be valid the entire month of November instead of the 10-day season we have seen the past several years.

"It is only through the cooperation of hunters completing harvest report cards that we are able to assess the success of the harvest for each of the deer seasons," Huxoll noted. "Some states have mandatory check-in stations, and hunters may have to travel 20-30 miles or more only to wait in line to have someone visually document their harvest."
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