Draper: South Dakota Outlook

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.

Much like their colleagues in Nebraska, big-game managers in South Dakota have been working the past few years to get a handle on burgeoning whitetail populations, especially in the units east of the Missouri River. And like Nebraska, it seems to be working.

"We've been trying to get on top of the deer herd and, for the most part, have been successful," said Andy Lindbloom, senior big-game biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. "Numbers have stabilized in a lot of the areas, and in some units, particularly those in the far eastern part of the state, we're seeing smaller herd numbers."

Lindbloom expects this year's deer harvest to be very similar to those in 2010 and 2009. West River hunters killed about 34,000 deer last year, down slightly from nearly 35,000 in 2009. East River hunters took 40,000 deer in 2010, which was up from 33,000 the year before.

"South Dakota has had record deer harvest for the last couple of years," said Lindbloom. "We've been aggressively managing herds through increased doe harvest and additional seasons and tag numbers."

One unit that will see a reduction in available tags is the Black Hills unit, where licenses are down from 4,900 a year ago to 4,100 this season. "That's not a huge change in numbers, but we felt we needed to cut back a bit to increase the deer herds in the Hills," said Lindbloom.

It may be a tired refrain repeated in both North Dakota and Nebraska reports, but while abundant rains have made for some great habitat conditions in some parts of the state, they will also affect hunters elsewhere. A lot of areas that were flooded out adjacent to the Missouri River are seeing water levels drop, exposing land that has been underwater for months. Hunters who have traditionally hunted these areas may need to find a new hunting spot in 2011.