GF&P reports license sales continue to soar

RAPID CITY — Hunting and fishing license sales continue to be strong in 2021, but because 2020 was such a banner year for outdoor recreation in South Dakota, it’s going to be a year or two before state Game, Fish and Parks officials will be able to accurately compare annual sales, said Tom Kirschenmann, wildlife director for the GF&P.

“We need to have a year or two to determine how much COVID affected us last year,” Kirschenmann told members of the GF&P Commission. “We saw a major bump in 2020 on annual fishing licenses. Right now (this year’s) numbers are closer to what we saw the previous couple of years. We had a great summer of fishing and it’s still going on. The folks are still doing really well.”

Kirschenmann said this year annual resident fishing license are significantly down, with 53,764 reported this year compared to 65,894 in 2020. But those numbers are only down slightly from the three-year average of 57,258.

Allowing youth ages 17 and younger to fish without a license has also affected the junior combination sales category, since youth only need to have a hunting license. Because of that, purchasing a junior combination license doesn’t make sense, he said. Before the rule change last year, junior combination sales were at 7,567, and this year they are at 5,650.

“That’s going to be one of those items we will have to watch over the next year,” he said.

By comparison, Kirschenmann said combination licenses are still going strong, with 45,049 sold this year compared to last year’s 43,766. The three-year average is 41,582.

On the nonresident side, fishing licenses were slightly up with 30,416 this year compared to 25,939 last year, and a three-year average of 24,136. Those nonresident annual fishing license numbers are expected to continue creeping up, he said, since the department removed the family fishing license option. Kids ages 17 and younger are able to fish without a license, and the family fishing licenses would often have two parents fishing under the same license, Kirschenmann said.

“The fishing has been phenomenal,” he said.

For nonresidents, small game hunting license sales were also huge, with 6,455 this year compared to 3,537 in 2020. The three-year average is 3,283.

“With South Dakota being open, folks are coming here,” Kirschenmann said. “License sales look good overall. From last year to where we are right now, we are ahead. We’re excited for the fall. Things are in a good place right now.”

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