SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Fall is a popular time of year, especially among hunters, and South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks is offering a special season to help disabled veterans reconnect with nature.
South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks shares its passion for the outdoors through a long list of programs, including Hunting 101.
“Basically, we go through the A-Z on how to become a hunter,” Outdoor Campus program coordinator Derek Klawitter said.
Derek Klawitter is a program coordinator with the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls. He takes a similar approach with a program that was created in 2021, the Disabled Veterans Hunt.
“Some of these people have never hunted before, so we’re going through the basics on how to hunt, where to hunt, what to do after you get the deer,” Klawitter said.
The disabled veterans deer hunting season runs the second Saturday of September through January 1st. The vets are selected through an application process and are allowed to harvest a buck or doe on private land.
“We had a veteran last year, he hadn’t hunted for 40 years, the first doe that popped out he was excited and he wanted to shoot that doe, and I’m like ‘shoot that doe’ and he did,” Klawitter said.
Fifty tags are awarded to private nonprofits, or sponsors, across South Dakota. Ten of those belong to the local chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation.
“If it wasn’t for organizations like that, this wouldn’t be possible,” Klawitter said.
“The private nonprofit is responsible for paying for the licenses,” Dakota Gray Ghost Chapter of Mule Deer Foundation member Emmett Keyser said.
Emmett Keyser recently retired from Game, Fish & Parks, but remains a member of the local Mule Deer Foundation and serves as a mentor on the hunts.
“Just a great opportunity to get outdoors and guys like myself who are retired and looking for something to do and enjoy getting out in the field and kind of want to pass on the hunting tradition, creates a great opportunity for us,” Keyser said.
“I feel very lucky to be out here and take part in this hunt,” Army veteran Jared Holt said.
Jared Holt is originally from Miller and recently retired after 25 years in the Army.
“Almost 30 years since I hunted last time, so I figured this would be a good time to get out and knock some of the rust off, so to speak,” Holt said.
Holt worked with Keyser prior to the hunt.
“We went out to the range and verified the zero on the rifle and did a little bit of education,” Holt said.
The lesson focused on conservation.
“You can’t have deer everywhere, you’ve got to manage that deer population, so that’s where my part comes in. Hopefully, I can get a good-sized deer, but we’ll see what happens,” Holt said.
“Maybe learn some new techniques that I never knew before, brush up my skills that I might have forgotten since I’ve been hunting in the past,” Army National Guard veteran Rob Stickney said.
Rob Stickney grew up in Mobridge. He served 29 years in the Army National Guard, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is looking forward to getting back into hunting.
“That’s probably the main reason why I’m still here in South Dakota. There’s so much opportunity for getting out in the outdoors fishing, hunting or just hiking,” Stickney said.
He says deer hunting isn’t all about the adrenaline rush.
“Looking forward to maybe getting some jerky, we’ll see,” Stickney said.
Stickney filled his deer tag with a buck, while Holt is still on the hunt, thanks in large part to land owners like Jeff Zimprich.
“The mentor hunting program and now this veteran hunting program are two things that I’m super excited to be a part of,” land owner Jeff Zimprich said.
Zimprich owns property near Brandon.
“Growing up on this amazing farm, it’s where I learned to love Mother Nature, and what I want to be able to do is give back to everybody I can, that opportunity to learn more about nature,” Zimprich said.
He hopes to see more landowners get involved with programs of this nature.
“Folks are going to realize that it takes good habitat to have wildlife and so we might even develop a whole corps of people that are interested in working with land owners to actually help build that habitat, take care of that habitat,” Zimprich said.
“Getting connected to the outdoors doesn’t always mean that you’re specifically looking to harvest an animal. It’s just those quality opportunities to spend time with family and friends in the outdoors and enjoy the experience,” Keyser said.
So, whether you’re hunting or exploring…
“Keep living life, doing what you love,” Klawitter said.
The local mule deer foundation has selected its ten veterans for this hunting season, but if you’d like to apply for a future hunt, click HERE for an application.