PIERRE, S.D. — Changes to South Dakota's deer hunting licensing program could come as soon as the 2019 hunting season after a state commission's unanimous approval on Friday, March 1.

After months of back-and-forth between commissioners and hunters, the Game, Fish and Parks commission unanimously voted to approve a new lottery system for South Dakota deer hunters. If the proposal is backed by the Legislature's Interim Rules Review Committee at their next meeting, GFP Special Projects Coordinator Kevin Robling said the new system could be in place in time for June's draw for the 2019 season.

Robling said the aim of the new system is to allow the greatest number of hunters to draw their first-choice season picks and to increase participation.

The approved proposal would allow a hunter to apply for two of the state's six seasons — East River, West River, Black Hills, Muzzleloader and Custer State Park — in the first draw. On the second draw, hunters with one license for these seasons could submit another application for a season they do not already have.

Critics of the commission's previous proposals were concerned they wouldn't be able to hunt both East and West River in the same year. By allowing hunters to apply for two seasons on the first draw, the latest proposal addresses that concern.

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In the third drawing, resident hunters could apply for each season for which they don't already have licenses. And on the fourth draw, resident hunters could submit up to another five applications.

On the fifth draw, the remaining licenses would be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

Commissioner Russell Olson of Madison said after 18 months of negotiations, the final proposal "shows the commission is willing to listen to sportsmen and -women and enthusiasts."