Spring turkey season starts in South Dakota in one week. COVID escapees will cross our borders side-by-side with diehard turkey hunters from around the country and, due to our generous licensing allocations, in unlimited numbers. Washington state has already taken steps to remove out-of-state hunters from its short list of invited guests.
Years ago, when the very short list of approved boys would come to escort my daughter out for social functions, I had a list of restrictions and guidelines.
Handholding was acceptable. Dancing was also approved, although I’ve now borne witness to certain dances at teen functions that were best shut down with a firehose. You could arrive to pick her up but were required to enter our home for inspection. I never associated the young men on the list with bad decisions, but I was also a teenaged boy raised in the same territory and understood that people making bad decisions were never hard to find.
You had to been home by a certain time. No exceptions. Each escort was familiar with my talents in tracking and firearms and was informed that I would come find them and extract her from any situation I felt deserved caution. I can still hear her pleading when she had car trouble to be allowed to extend a stay at some distant ranch and reassuring her that the two-hour drive was no trouble. That coming to my daughter’s defense was one of my primary objectives in life. No matter the time of neither night nor distance, I would be there.
The Black Hills are among the nation’s top bug-out escape destinations for hunting, skiing, or mountain biking. While other states have shut down their national forests and trails in order to deter nonresidents from visiting, we have left spring blizzards and closed forest service gates as our best natural defense. Nothing deters exploration like a steel gate and three feet of snow.
Washington state has gone so far as to suspend its spring hunting and fishing seasons in order to reduce travel from nonresidents. It has since clarified that those who are hunting or fishing for food will still be allowed out. But recreational enthusiasts will be required to kill a few fish and keep them in their creels in order to avoid citations. Already, we are hearing stories of states that have given fines in the thousands of dollars to those found walking on unauthorized trails or beaches.
People trapped in the metropolitan areas in their high-rise apartment buildings are losing all sense of reason and would like to see restrictions placed on those in rural areas also. Gov. Kristi Noem has cautioned that South Dakota might not see our peak of infections till mid-June, but our wide prairies give us avenues for escape that others can only dream of.
While the wealthy can afford vacation homes in order to avoid claustrophobia, getting here is becoming more difficult. Travel restrictions are becoming numerous despite the appearance of an influx of out-of-state plates that are popping up much too early for tourist season.
I always host spring turkey hunters as part of my guide business but would understand if sacrifices and reasonable restrictions needed to be made.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article that questioned changes in elk hunting policies. John Kanta, regional GF&P supervisor, went far and beyond to contact me with clarifying information.
While the 500-day requirement is scheduled to be dropped, landowners will now have to prove habitual elk use and get GF&P verification before they may apply for licenses. It is much more restrictive than the previous wording, which had no avenue for verification.
I also asked questions as to the origins of changes allowing nonresidents to be guaranteed landowner deer and antelope tags. That did come from a representative with a large ranch and nonresident children who could no longer easily hunt with his family. I understand his efforts and know firsthand that his children are quality representative of our state, but this change could lead to nonresident land purchases and inflation that might have unintended consequences for agriculture and reduced access for resident hunters.
The final point of clarification came on the wording of a new six-month season for prairie elk. Kanta emphasized that it would apply only to large herds that were above capacity. Only two units in the state currently fit that description.
At times, certain restrictions make sense, but their consequences can be harder to anticipate. Go hunting and fishing while you still can.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.