Ranchers and hunters help one another
Cattle, conservation and hunting are all intertwined on the Besler Ranch near Bison, S.D.
Wayne Besler and sons Brad and Chris and grandson Tanner operate a commercial cattle ranch that covers more than 16,400 acres and is one of the largest public walk-in hunting areas in the state.
Lifelong conservationists, the Beslers signed a contract with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department in 1995 to open the ranch to public hunting and fishing and to reduce their livestock population by about half to enhance their grassland for wildlife habitat.
In return, GF&P pays them an annual rent and helps them improve the grassland habitat. Money for the program comes from hunting licenses.
The Beslers have built or restored 17 stock dams; installed cross fences, pipelines and water tanks; created food plots covering 100 acres; and planted nearly 700 cottonwood trees with cost-share help from the USDA, GF&P and private wildlife groups.
• Ranch benefits from GF&P’s open access contract.
• GF&P pays annual rent and helps improve grasslands.
• Cattle weaning weights have risen with increase in forage.
Wildlife has responded well to habitat and food-source improvements. Pheasants, grouse and partridge populations are high now. Waterfowl are plentiful. Grassland nesting birds, such as the meadow lark, are thriving. Deer and antelope are also plentiful.
The Beslers’ cattle have done better, too. Calf weaning weights have risen. The Beslers attribute part of the gain to increases in forage quality and quantity, and wider availability of fresh water.
Reducing stocking rates also has helped the Beslers maintain cow numbers through recent droughts without running short of grass. Being able to hay Conservation Reserve Program acres every third year helps, too, giving them plenty of winter hay.
500 hunters and fishers
More than 500 people usually visit the Besler ranch annually to hunt and fish. But the extra people on the land haven’t been a problem, Brad says, because access is walk-in only.
The Beslers don’t hunt themselves. “It’s hard for many to believe, but I’ve never shot a deer or antelope in my life,” says Wayne, 78. “I just enjoy them. I love to ride out and see them grazing in the pasture or spot a big buck jump out and bound across the prairie.”
But they welcome hunters.
“So many places have gone to fee hunting, making it tougher and tougher for fathers and sons to hunt,” Brad says. “It gives us a lot of satisfaction to see fathers and their sons and daughters enjoying the hunting on our land.”
“We like seeing people come out here and enjoy the wide open spaces,” Wayne adds, “We’ve made many friends over the years and gained a lot of branding help.”
Roti writes for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.
This article published in the August, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.