ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — Fawn numbers this spring are way down. That’s one reason South Dakota wildlife biologists want the antelope hunting seasons this year — and maybe next year, too — to be mostly just for bucks.

Another reason: South Dakota’s pronghorn numbers are down overall right now, after many adult antelope evidently died last year amid tough dry conditions.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission followed that advice Thursday. Commissioners recommended issuing fewer licenses and changing most of them from ‘any antelope’ to bucks-only.

There were 5,207 licenses sold and 3,552 antelope taken in 2021, according to the state Wildlife Division. The new plan would cut resident licenses by half. The goal is to reduce harvest by approximately 1,400 does and 700 bucks.

The commission will hold a public hearing on the recommended changes at 2 p.m. MT on July 7 in Spearfish.

GFP senior big-game biologist Andy Lindbloom told the commissioners Thursday that the estimated count of adult pronghorns from recent aerial surveys was about 28,000. That was down 16% from 2019.

The surveys found just 48 fawns per 100 does, the lowest on record.

“Fawns don’t have a chance in dry weather,” observed Commissioner Charles Spring of Union Center. He blamed predators, mainly coyotes. “Them fawns, they’re just, they’re devastated.”

Lindbloom said he completely agreed with Spring’s “speculation” because there aren’t many places to hide from predators when the prairie looks like a pool table.

Commissioner Jon Locken of Bath noted there had been downward spikes in antelope numbers after the winters of 1997 and 1998 and 2012.

Wildlife administrator Chad Switzer said those experiences were reflected in the current recommendations. “It’s a nerve-wracking process,” Switzer said. “We’ve learned from the past.”

The recommendation could be confusing because it looks like a big increase when the intent is the opposite.

The recommendation says “No more than 8,000 one-tag ‘any antelope’ antelope licenses” and “no more than 3,000 two-tag antelope licenses.” The rule that’s been in effect set the caps at 4,115 one-tag and 600 two-tag.

The Wildlife Division is taking the commission through a revised process that’s meant to require fewer rule changes going to the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee. The numbers actually issued would be reflected in the commission’s meeting minutes.