Elk and their habitat in western South Dakota are very different from the world of pheasants, waterfowl and wetlands in the eastern side of the state.
Elk are large, majestic animals which require a lot of ground and good habitat. If you are all about elk and wild places, such as the Black Hills, you'll admire the accomplishments of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation members.
Across the state, South Dakota's chapters have helped protect (some permanently) and enhance more than 59,759 acres of critical elk range, said Aberdeen's Paul Swanston, co-chairman of the local Dakota Plains Chapter. Nationally, the foundation has conserved more than 6 million acres.
The foundation and partners have completed 180 projects in the state with a combined value of more than $31.8 million.
The foundation has also orchestrated hunting heritage activities across the state, including Shooting Access for Everyone Challenge events, 4-H Shooting Sports, South Dakota Outdoor Expo, South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures and National Archery in the Schools project.
Foundation funds also bought radio collars fitted to elk cows and calves to study cause of herd decline, movement, nutritional condition, reproduction and calf survival in Custer State Park.
Dakota Plains was organized in 1991, and Swanston is in his 19th year of committee work. He and his elk hunter wife, Gail, are working their fifth year as co-chairs for the annual fund-raiser event Saturday in Aberdeen.
We have a great and very diverse group of committee members, all dedicated conservationists, Swanston said.
Included are business people, retired and working people, Game Fish and Parks staff and a semi-retired pastor.
Swanston said his passion for elk developed after he hunted them a few times.
Hunting elk in the Black Hills is like no other place; it's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, Swanston said. When you are in their environment, the world is different. There is nothing like archery hunting amongst the bulls when they are bugling. Once, I had six bulls bugling at each other within a block area. That's what drives my passion.
It hurts to see their habitat developed (with projects such as houses). I'm really passionate about protecting it.
The successful goal of protecting the prime elk habitat 2,400-acre Lady C Ranch near Hot Springs was a years-long effort coordinated by South Dakota chapters, the national foundation and the National Forest Service. The property was dedicated in June 2011.
It's a beautiful place with diverse wildlife, Swanston said. There are no roads, access is by walking and it is open to hunting.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION
What: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Dakota Plains Chapter 21st annual banquet.
Where: Ramkota Hotel, Aberdeen.
Times: Games start at 5 p.m. Dinner is at 7 p.m., followed by a live auction. Raffles and auction include firearms, hunts, artwork and jewelry.
Tickets: Available at door.
Details: Jeremy Iverson, 605-228-5418.