Last year hemorrhagic diseases rocked whitetails, mule deer and elk. Fifty-one counties in South Dakota had reports of dead deer in the fall of 2012, including those that succumbed to two different strains of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and two strains of Bluetongue virus. A total of 3,714 dead or sickly deer were reported.

Because of the large number of whitetails lost to disease, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks removed 2,100 licenses in four West River counties. The department also offered refunds to anyone who’d purchased a deer license anywhere in the state, and about 2,300 hunters took the department up on their offer.

Big game biologist Kevin Robling believes that fewer licenses translated into fewer deer harvested in 2012.

“About 61,067 whitetails and 8,284 mule deer were harvested, which were the lowest totals since 2003,” explained Robling.

Except for the northeast portion, last winter was relatively mild in the Mount Rushmore State. This will help to offset the brutal winters from 2009 to 2011. Good rainfall in 2013 will also help deer recover. Despite lower population numbers than the department would like, whitetail hunting should be good in all three deer management areas this fall.

Mule deer hunting is another story. Mule deer populations throughout the state, particularly in the West River Deer Management Area (WRD), continued to decline. This has prompted the Department to issue fewer hunting permits than they did in recent years.

Regulation Changes
The state revised its baiting regulations in 2013, no longer allowing baiting from Aug. 15 – Feb. 1. Hunters are still free to use scents/lures to attract deer.

Public Land
Hunters in South Dakota enjoy millions of acres open to public hunting. Whitetail deer slayers will find some of the best hunting in Butte, Day, Gregory counties, along with areas around Custer and Hill City. Good mule deer hunting is available in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, and Harding and Butte Counties. Fall River County near Edgemont is a hidden gem for muleys.