Rut Reporter David Draper grew up hunting deer and small game throughout this region and presently lives on a family farm in Nebraska. Draper, former communications specialist for Cabela’s and an authority on the Great Plains, subsists on a diet of duck breast and venison. States covered: ND, SD, NE and KS.

With whitetail populations booming across the Great Plains, area hunters shouldn’t have to worry about not seeing deer in the upcoming season. However, depending on where they’re at, they might have two very different things to worry about: flooding and drought. Water, or lack thereof, may be the defining issue that determines deer hunter success this fall. Here’s the situation:

Floods: Record snowpack last winter, along with a wet spring and torrential rainfalls throughout the summer, has pushed many of the region’s rivers past capacity. Most years, high water has receded by the time deer season rolls around, but some hunters may still have to deal with flood stage well into September. This will cause major access problems for many hunters along the Platte, Missouri and other major waterways. On the plus side, hunters bordering flooded riparian areas will probably see increased densities of displaced deer.

Drought: While floods ravaged the eastern half of Nebraska and the Dakotas, folks in south-central and western Kansas are praying for rain. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, pasture conditions in neighboring Oklahoma are in poor to very-poor condition and some areas haven’t seen measurable rainfall in months. With little to no browse or cover available, deer are stressed and fawn mortality rates could suffer if conditions don’t improve soon.

While September 1 might be a bit early to start thinking about the rut, it’s not too early to talk about deer hunting on the Great Plains, especially considering archery and youth-only seasons start opening in the coming weeks. Before the openers, we’ll talk more about deer hunting the apocalypse, as well as break down what hunters in each of the four Great Plains states have to look forward this season.
Upcoming season openers:**

Kansas – Youth, Sept. 10; Muzzleloader/Archery, Sept. 19
Nebraska – Youth and Archery, Sept. 15
South Dakota – Youth, Sept. 10; Archery, Sept. 24
North Dakota – Archery, Sept. 12; Youth, Sept. 16