Few things cause more frustration and confusion for South Dakota hunters than being able to draw the tags they want. Now the Department of Game, Fish and Parks is slightly changing the drawing system to try and make it better. The GFP will now cube the number of entries an applicant gets in a drawing for tags.

"What the hell does that mean?" you might be wondering. If you are applying for an Any Deer license in Lincoln County and you have one preference point, you would have two entries for that year's drawing. That number of entries will now be cubed giving you eight entries in the drawing (2 x 2 x 2 = 8).

If you have no preference points you will still only get one entry in the drawing since 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.

Preference points are accrued when you don't succeed in drawing a tag, if you choose to pay the $5 resident point fee or $10 for a non resident. You can also just choose to buy the point if you don't plan on hunting that year without applying.

Other states similarly weight points in this manner. Montana squares hunters bonus points before a draw is run.

An ongoing problem, primarily for those applying for Black Hills Elk tags or almost anything in Custer State Park, is that even though they have accumulated points for more than 20 years there are people with none who will occasionally draw tags.

In the graphic below, a screenshot of draw statistics for elk unit H2A from the GFP website, you will see that six applicants with 22 or more points - the most in the drawing -  were unsuccessful in the draw. Meanwhile one applicant with ZERO points drew the coveted tag.

Cubing the number of entries in the drawing will weight the drawing more in the favor of those with more points than in previous years.

“The drawing will, essentially, be run the exact same way as before,” said GFP licensing supervisor Shon Eide. “We will still have the same breakdown of preference point pools for every season, however, now we will cube the number of times the person’s name is in the draw before that draw is run."

However the injustice will likely still exist where a hunter who has 24 points could get bull blocked for a tag while someone with no points could still possibly draw.

“This doesn’t change the drawing to a true top down preference point system,” Eide said. “A hunter with the most preference points would still not be guaranteed a license before another hunter with less preference points who is in the same draw pool, but their odds of drawing a license would be increased over someone else in the draw pool with fewer preference points.”


The cubed preference point system will first be applied to the 2018 elk and Gavin’s Point paddlefish snagging drawings and then used for all limited draw seasons. It will not be used for special buck, Francis Case paddlefish snagging or spring turkey drawings until 2019.


The elk draw is put into three pools. Those with 15 or more points (3,375 entries) are in the first pool where 34 percent of available licenses are available. Anyone who doesn't draw keeps their number entries and fall to the next pool reserved for those with 10 or more points (1,000 entries) and are drawing for 33 percent of the tags. Then everyone who hasn't drawn so far will go to the final pool for those with 0 points or more where the final 33 percent of tags will be drawn. In that third pool anyone who is still undrawn with 10 points would have 1,331 entries and someone with 5 points would have 216.

The points system works fine as is for most licenses. Cubing points gives more weight to those with more points and I think that will be a good thing.

The problem of hunters not getting tags after applying for over twenty years is not going to go away and that is simply a product of supply and demand. In the aforementioned Black Hills Elk unit H2A there were 250 Any Elk tags that were sought after by 8,803 applicants. That's 2.8 percent getting tags.

The cubing of points is not going to help anyone applying for Custer State Park tags. For elk there were 8 tags available for 8,834 people. 0.09 percent drew tags. The elk draw is a joke. The deer draw is only slightly less comical with 0.3 percent drawing. GFP should quit stealing $5 every year from those applicants and just make it a straight up lottery. But if they did that then they'd be screwing people who have been buying points since first term of the first Reagan administration.

I have read a lot of complaining on social media about how it takes forever to draw a tag. I grew up hunting on or near my uncle's farm in Union County. Due to a drop in deer numbers there the number of tags were cut down to 100 the last few years. Many of the East River units were cut back drastically as well.

Back in 2014, after drawing the previous two years, I was denied a tag. I was mad. How could the GFP not give me what I want? After browsing the website for draw statistics I discovered that not every county in the state sells out on the first draw. I could get two antlerless whitetail tags in Sully County. It's not 45 minutes from my driveway but I can rent a cheap cabin and go hunt, which is really all I cared about. Every year since I've gone with buddies and had a great time.

If you get outside your comfort zone you can still have a great hunt. You can also keep bitching on the Internet. One of those is easy and the other is a hell of a lot of fun.

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