If you have hunted much in South Dakota you know how little public land there is in this prairie state and, consequently, how difficult it is to go hunting here on own your own. The good news is, South Dakota has a landowner program called Walk-in Access Program (WIA) that is encouraging landowners to open huge new tracts of land, some of them rich in big game populations. The number of acres involved now stands at 620,000. The animals you can hunt on these lands for free (that is, without paying any kind of trespass or access fee) include whitetails, mule deer, antelope, turkeys and waterfowl. And make no mistake, residents as well as non-residents can hunt these lands. Currently, only about 25 percent of the state's resident hunters and 23 percent of its nonresident hunters take advantage of this program, which means some great hunting opportunity is being overlooked. That's particularly true on some of the newly enrolled lands in the western part of the state.
So, how do you check out this program to see if its benefits are right for you? The first thing you should do is contact the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. Ask for a free copy of a booklet called Walk-in Access Atlas. It shows the location of all WIA lands county by county. It also provides the names of the landowners, the number of acres of each parcel, and specifics as to location, roads and directions from the nearest town. Significantly, owners of properties enrolled in WIA are required to make their lands attractive to wild game. The majority of the land in the program is also enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the federal program that encourages farmers and other landowners to leave strips of untilled and undeveloped land on their properties as cover for wild game. WIA helps landowners expand on this with food habitat plots, habitat fences that keep out livestock, wetland and grassland restorations and the creation of shelterbelts, which are rows or groups of planted trees. WIA properties range from 4,000 to 14,000 acres. On most of........(continued)