South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) called at 4 p.m. on the dot on a Friday afternoon. She sounded relaxed and not at all like a woman who had to pack and leave early the next morning for an Arkansas flooded-timber duck hunt with her daughter, followed by a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration of the 46th president.
South Dakota’s first female governor knows how to multitask. She is a former representative to the South Dakota House (2007 to 2011). She then went on to Washington, D.C., to serve in Congress (2011 to 2019). When not serving her state, she might be found back on the family ranch in Hazel, S.D., or out hunting.
On social media, she is serious about important topics, such as our Second Amendment, but she will also poke a little fun at herself. She recently tweeted that she wore her Sitka hunting gloves to keep warm at President Joe Biden’s inauguration—and then laughed at herself for eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting afterward.
Women relate to her warm personality. Men want to compete with her grit. She’s a force to watch and admire.
A1F: Two years ago, the first bill you signed was for constitutional carry. Why that bill and what are the results of having that law in South Dakota so far?
Gov. Noem: You know, constitutional carry had been debated in our legislature for a year or two and had not passed. And so, when I became governor, it was very important to me. I decided that I wanted it to be the first bill that I would sign into law and support through the legislative process. And then, when it was on my desk, we decided to have a special signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to express how important it was, not just to me and my family, but also to the state of South Dakota.
A1F: What do you think about concealed-carry reciprocity in this nation?
Gov. Noem: Well, the bill that I signed gives citizens options. We still encourage them to get a concealed-carry permit, so they can utilize reciprocity agreements with states that still require permits. Every law-abiding citizen in our state should have a guarantee now that they can carry a firearm. It was frustrating for me while I served in Congress that we couldn’t get a concealed-carry reciprocity bill passed at the federal level. But I knew that when I became governor, I’d have an opportunity to do so for my constituents.
A1F: Are you seeing growth in the numbers of women who not only carry, but also participate in the shooting sports and hunting in South Dakota?
Gov. Noem: Absolutely. We have a record number of women getting involved in carrying, hunting and spending more time outdoors. I think our enhanced-carry classes have had record numbers of enrollment from women. And then, also, we’ve specifically given them opportunities to come into gun ranges and to be trained by experts in classes that are specifically tailored for women. I think this has created an environment that’s made it much more welcoming for them to try something that they’ve maybe always wanted to try. I’ve tried to promote it as much as possible. My daughters and I really love and enjoy hunting.
A1F: Do you believe concealed carry is becoming, or is, a partisan issue?
Gov. Noem: I’m not sure if it’s specific to concealed carry. I do think that people have politicized the right to bear arms for years. This may give us an opportunity to message this in a very different way because of the law-and-order discussion that’s happening at the national level. I think more and more people are understanding the need to feel safe in their homes and on their property and in their day-to-day lives; for instance, my mom, for the first time, decided to go buy a firearm. She’s just never, ever wanted that before, and my brother took her just a week or two ago to go purchase her first firearm. My sister-in-law also went and got her first pistol just within the last month or two. And, I think, even though people don’t live their day-to-day lives necessarily scared, they’re recognizing the importance of being prepared and exercising their rights. I think they’re concerned at the dialogue that’s going on and know that if they have a right, they should utilize it and exercise it.
A1F: What’s your background with shooting and hunting?
Gov. Noem: Most of our vacations when I was growing up were hunting trips. My dad loved big-game hunting, so if we were done with harvest in the fall and done working cattle—we were farmers and ranchers—we typically went to the mountains to go deer or elk hunting. So that really was just a way of life for us and our family. My grandmother, Doris, was the one who took me bird hunting most of the time. She was a passionate duck and pheasant hunter, and so most of my small-game hunting was done with her. But big-game hunting was enjoyed with my father and family. So, you know, it’s just been a part of our lives from the time we were little, and it’s hard to determine, really, where hunting, culture and heritage would stop or end in our family.
A1F: Were you able to pass that love of hunting along to your children, and does your husband feel that way, too? Is he a hunter and an outdoorsman?
Gov. Noem: My girls are very active hunters. Kassidy and I are going duck hunting in Arkansas tomorrow, just for 24 hours, and then we’re going to come back home again. I love archery elk hunting, which I do with my brothers. Booker, my son, loves duck hunting.
My husband is a hunter, but probably not as much as I am. Last Christmas, I sent him on his first duck hunt. He’s always enjoyed pheasant hunting. I think it’s been years since he’s really shot any big game, but I sent him and my son on a duck hunt to Louisiana, and he absolutely loved it.
So, I’ve always been the one in the family who has been the passionate hunter. But, more and more, my husband is starting to appreciate hunting and wanting to do it more. I would say if we do anything for fun, it is planning a trip to go somewhere, spending it outdoors and hunting or fishing.
A1F: It’s great to hear you’re not like some politicians who put on blaze orange and stand out in a field for a photo.
Gov. Noem: Yeah, I would say that even in South Dakota, I’m a little bit different. We’ve had past governors that are passionate about hunting. Mike Rounds, a past governor, was a passionate pheasant hunter, but that’s about all that he really hunted. The last governor didn’t hunt much. I think my Game, Fish and Parks Department constantly thinks I’m all up in their business just because I’m so passionate about every aspect of what they do. They’re kind of shocked that I’m so involved. But that’s how much I really believe that the outdoors and spending time with wildlife is good for you as a person. It’s good for your heart and your soul. Mentally, it’s a good detox from a lot of the stresses and technology that we deal with each day. And so, it’s incredibly important, not just for a way of life, but, I think, for our well-being.
A1F: Is there somewhere you’d like to go for a “bucket-list” hunt and for what species?
Gov. Noem: It’s always been an Alaskan moose hunt. That’s my dream trip. I would love to do that. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to schedule a trip like that, but it’s always gotten cancelled. So, someday, I’m hopeful that I will get the opportunity to do that.
A1F: Next gun purchase?
Gov. Noem: Well, one of my dearest friends always says to me, “We don’t talk about security, Kristi.” So, I won’t tell you what guns I already have. But, I am pretty well-armed in some of the semi-automatic rifles. What I really want, and it sounds silly, because it’s so simple, but I need to get a .270 Winchester. I just don’t have one, and I need to get it all set up. I end up getting rifles set up and sighted in and then giving them to my children.
A1F: We have watched your reaction to mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, and it’s clear you respect freedom. Where does that come from and why do you value it so?
Gov. Noem: I think it’s a respect for the foundation of this country and the Constitution; it has kept America special and unique for over two hundred years. I think it’s also a realization of what my role is. I think I had all the information that every other governor had in this country in making my decisions. But, I also realize that if a leader oversteps their authority in a time of crisis, they can break this country.
I also wanted to be very clear on what authority I did not have. That’s why I made the decisions that I made. Governors don’t have the authority to tell someone that their business isn’t essential. They don’t have the authority to close a business. I believe that people in this country still value personal responsibility, and I wanted to give them flexibility. Really, none of us knew what the future was going to look like when we first started hearing about this virus last December or January. I knew that every family was going to be in a different situation and would need some flexibility to take care of their family’s health, but also to keep putting food on the table and a roof over their heads. So, it comes from wanting to be someone that people knew they could trust, but also I needed to show a willingness to trust people as well. And that might be the most-powerful thing about all of this—it’s just really been a testimony to the quality of people that live in South Dakota. Because they did. They appreciated it; they trusted me. We worked together to get through this last year, and they’re happy. They’re doing very, very well.
A1F: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
Gov. Noem: I'll use this as an opportunity to tell people that if they want to live somewhere where their freedom is respected and defended, South Dakota is the perfect place to be. We are growing. We are recruiting businesses and families here every day, and they’re moving here in record numbers; we’re thrilled about that. We think that our way of life is special. We would love to have more and more people come and join us.
Visit governor.sd.gov for more on Gov. Kristi Noem.