A Great Year For Bowhunting

There's little doubt that Great Plains bowhunters will find plenty of deer and plenty of hunting opportunities when bow seasons open in our states. Here's what to expect. (August 2008)

Archers in Kansas have the rut exclusively to themselves. Many of the state's top bucks -- like this odd-racked non-typical arrowed by the author some seasons back -- fall during the mating frenzy.
Photo by Marc Murrell.

Some outdoorsmen like to talk about the so-called "good ol' days" when it comes to some of their favorite outdoor pursuits. Some species, such as quail and jack rabbits, were abundant throughout much of their range then, but populations recently have declined. Although the news for hunters who chase that sort of game isn't good, some other species are bright spots in a sometimes worrying landscape -- and one of those is deer.

If you're a deer hunter, the good ol' days might be just around the corner. And the good news for the bowhunter is that you get first crack at your state's deer herd in most of the Great Plains states.

Here's a state-by-state run-down of what you can expect when the season opens in your hunting area.

NORTH DAKOTA
Although North Dakota doesn't have the deer-hunting reputation of its Great Plains neighbors to the south, many big bucks are taken in the northernmost state in our region. Archery hunters have plenty of potential for success on both whitetails and mule deer.

"It's good," said Bill Jensen, big-game biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department of the deer population. "We're fairly stable now overall."

Whitetails are found statewide; mule deer primarily roam in the western portion of the state, but some do extend to the Missouri River. "Mule deer probably generate more interest than whitetails," Jensen said. "I think it's the novelty of hunting a different species."

Bowhunters can take advantage of a number of huge public hunting areas. "There are 1.2 million acres of national grasslands in the west and another 1 million acres or more in the Private Land Open to Sportsman program," offered Jensen. "And then state-owned lands open to hunting. We're about 95 percent privately owned, but guys can do well on some of these public lands."

North Dakota's deer management program focuses on opportunity rather than on trophies. But the Badlands area provides some great potential for mule deer hunters, and, said Jensen, big whitetail bucks could come from just about anywhere.

In 2007, the success rate for 2,500 non-resident and about 17,000 resident archers ran from 40 to 45 percent, with a similar number of archers killing roughly 8,500 deer in 2006. "And of that total there are probably 800 to 1,000 mule deer included," Jensen offered.

Archery hunting is limited to one license per person, which allows the taking of an antlered deer anywhere in the state. The resident cost is $20, non-residents $200. All archery hunters must have a hunting certificate ($2 for non-residents, $1 for residents) and a general game and habitat license or combination license ($13 and $32, respectively). If any antlerless permits are left over after the lottery drawing, archery hunters can purchase and use them -- armed with any legal weapon -- during any legal season in the unit dictated by the license.

North Dakota has been testing for chronic wasting disease for years but has yet to have a positive test.

Whitetail permits are available over the counter, but archery hunters wanting any-deer licenses must purchase them on a first-come, first-served basis beginning in early March each year.

North Dakota's archery deer season runs approximately from Labor Day Weekend to the first weekend in January, stated Jensen. "Our bowhunters should have a good season and I hope they have a safe hunt," he concluded.

SOUTH DAKOTA
Although known primarily as an upland bird hunting state, South Dakota offers plenty of big-game hunting as well. "Our deer population is doing well, the whitetails in particular," said Tom Kirschenmann, game program administrator for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

South Dakota manages its deer herd on the basis of several factors: distribution, health, landowner tolerance and hunter preference. "So there are several things involved in where we are going with our overall deer population," Kirschenmann said, "and we don't necessarily manage for trophy bucks."

Whitetail densities in South Dakota vary, and don't follow geographic lines. According to Kirschenmann, solid populations inhabit the Black Hills in the western part of the state and are found east of the Missouri River. But for the most part, more whitetails are found east of the Missouri River, which, the SDDGFP administrator noted, essentially cuts the state in half from east to west.

Western South Dakota has mule deer, as do a few counties bordering the river on the east side of the Missouri. "You'll find some that have more in those areas than others," Kirschenmann said.

South Dakota whitetails garner more interest than their prairie-dwelling counterparts. Most of the hunting takes place on private land, but, Kirschenmann said, plenty of public areas are open to bowhunting. "There is a lot statewide, but there is probably more west of the river because of the BLM land," he said. "And we have private land enrolled in our Walk-In Access Program that's available for sportsman to utilize."

The trophy potential isn't confined to just one part of the state. "Every year we see nice deer come from all over," said Kirschenmann. "We often hear of some good ones taken from the southeast and south-central part of the state -- but again, that's along the Missouri River Breaks areas where we have some of the higher concentrations of deer."

The number of resident archery licenses sold in South Dakota in 2007 totaled roughly 21,000; 2,500 were sold to non-residents. "That's not hunters," Kirschenmann offered, "because you can buy more than one license; we've got around 16,000 archery hunters total in the state.

The 2007 success rate hovered right around 32 percent, with archers killing 8,700 deer. "Of that total, about 1,060 were mule deer," Kirschenmann said.

The number of deer licenses in South Dakota is unlimited. However, the maximum allowed per hunter is five, with up to two of those for harvest of an ant

lered animal.

"A hunter can possess one statewide archery deer license, or one East River and/or one West River archery license," Kirschenmann explained. "And then you can pick up the antlerless tags as well."

The 2007 prices for the resident and the non-resident antlered archery license were $35 and $195, respectively. Single antlerless tags are available to residents for $15, $55 for non-residents. Or hunters can purchase a double antlerless tag for two deer -- and that license is $25 for residents, $85 for non-residents. "You can apply online," Kirschenmann stated, "or you can call and we'll send the paper application, but the vast majority of folks are doing it online now."

South Dakota has confirmed chronic wasting disease in several counties, including Fall River, Custer and Pennington. "And even though we're finding it, it's still at a very low prevalence rate," Kirschenmann added. "To give you an idea: Since July of 2007 we have taken samples from nearly 2,700 animals and found 17 positives in elk, mule and white-tailed deer combined."

The South Dakota archery season typically starts the third week in September and runs through the end of January. Good things are in store for South Dakota archers for 2008, according to Kirschenmann: "There are a lot of deer in the landscape and both species are doing well. We expect another good year."

NEBRASKA
The Cornhusker State boasts plenty of bowhunting opportunity. "Mule deer and whitetails are the highest ever," said Kit Hams, big-game program coordinator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "And it's the oldest we've ever had, too, as far as the age of bucks harvested."

Mule deer numbers are highest in the western portion of Nebraska. The mule deer harvest figures from 2006 were the highest ever, Hams reported. Introducing reduced harvest of mule deer does into the hunting equation has in many locales resulted increasing mule deer populations.

Whitetails are found statewide, but are more common along the river systems. "And by far, whitetails generate more interest among archery hunters than mulies," Hams said. "But for the archer who wants to purse a mule deer, that's an outstanding hunt, as there is hardly anyone else out there."

Most hunting in Nebraska takes place on private ground, but, Hams reported, public-land opportunities are available. He pointed to the northwest for those interested in a mule deer. "There are three counties in the northwest against Wyoming and South Dakota that has 200,000 acres of public land with mule deer, and whitetails in the Pine Ridge National Forest," he noted, "and there are also state wildlife management areas and parks in that region, as well as the Ogallala National Grasslands.

"And as far as whitetails, there are dozens of areas across the state ranging in size from little 100-acre ones to several thousand acres. I'd select those along riparian corridors like the Missouri River. And counties in the eastern half of the state, and those associated with reservoirs."

According to Hams, big bucks can pop up most anywhere. Two of the most recent brutes, he stated, came from near Lincoln and from an area where whitetails weren't common near Wyoming's border. "But the highest percentage of big bucks come from the Sandhills region of the state," he said. "There's almost more deer up there than trees."

Nebraska has roughly 16,000 bowhunters chasing deer. "And I doubt if we have more than 1,000 non-resident archers," Hams estimated. The success rates for archers hit a record high last season at 30 percent. Archery deer hunters killed 4,800 deer, only a couple of hundred of those mule deer bucks.

Archery hunters can get two permits valid statewide that allow the harvest of a buck. Each permit is $28 for residents and $178 for non-residents. Unlimited antlerless permits are also available; Hams encouraged hunters to purchase these to help reduce the population, adding, "Online purchasing is the best option for anyone."

Nebraska deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease, but the malady doesn't appear to be spreading. "We've got it and it's staying at about 1 or 1 1/2 percent in our western counties," Hams said. "Our hunters don't see it as a big deal and we don't see it as a big deal; we'll just keep working with it."

The archery season opens Sept. 15 and runs through Dec. 31. However, it's closed during the firearms season, Nov. 15-23.

KANSAS
The Kansas deer population is in fine shape, reported Lloyd Fox, big-game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "It's good to excellent," he said. "It's a stable, strong population, and increasing in many parts of the state, but at a pretty low level now."

Two species of deer call Kansas home. "Mule deer are found most frequently in the eastern or central part of Deer Management Unit 1 and places like Rawlins, Decatur, Sheridan, Graham and Norton, Logan and Gove counties," Fox said. "And that extends on down into Wichita, Scott, Finney and Kearney counties, too."

Western South Dakota has mule deer, as do a few counties bordering the river on the east side of the Missouri.

Whitetails are found throughout Kansas and tend to more numerous from west to east. "Some of our faster-growing populations seem to be in the central part of the state, like deer management units 3,5,7,8,14,15 and 16," Fox said.

As far as trophy whitetails are concerned, Kansas produces its share. In terms of any one area producing big bucks year after year, however, no clear-cut winner is evident. "Traditionally, we see trophy deer coming out of all of our deer management units," Fox said. "But if you look at trends, the units that tend to do the best are the ones with a great deal of rangeland and ownership in large blocks like the Red Hills and Flint Hills."

Whitetails garner the most interest, hands down, among bowhunters, Fox observed. Of the total number of deer harvested, only a few hundred are mule deer.

Bowhunters have several options as far as land to hunt goes. The KDWP leases private land for public access, and some bowhunting takes place on these Walk-In Hunting Areas. State-owned public wildlife areas, most associated with a reservoir, attract plenty of attention, too. These areas can provide good hunting opportunities, particularly for those willing to get off the beaten path.

One area that the KDWP would like see more deer removed from is the Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area. "We have opened the area to the use of multiple whitetail antlerless-only permits," Fox said.

In 2007, Fox estimated, Kansas had 20,086 resident hunters -- up from 19,426 in 2006. In 2007, roughly 4,600 non-residents hunted with archery equipment for Kansas deer. "The success rate for both resid

ents and non-residents is about 50 percent," he said of those who manage to tag a Kansas deer. "Residents took 9,729 deer" -- 81.5 percent whitetail bucks, 3.4 percent mule deer bucks -- "and non-residents took 1,956 deer" -- 94 percent whitetail bucks.

New this year is the option of purchasing either a whitetail either-sex permit -- valid statewide, it can be used with the required equipment in any legal season -- or an archery-only statewide any-deer permit allowing the hunting of either mule deer or white-tailed deer, but only with archery equipment during that season; either tag costs the resident $32.15. In addition, archery hunters can get up to four antlerless-only whitetail tags each, depending on which deer management unit they hunt. These permits cost residents $17.15 each.

Non-resident archery permits will still be issued by drawing, the deadline for which is the end of May each year; applicants must pick one unit and an adjacent unit in which to hunt. Non-resident permits cost $322.15.

Kansas officials have confirmed the presence of chronic wasting disease in the northwest. "CWD is a slow-moving disease," Fox said. "We knew we were going to get it, and our first positive in a wild population was in 2005, and we had three additional ones from last year in Decatur County."

Despite the new findings, Fox noted, the chances of a deer hunter killing a CWD-infected animal are slim at best. He doesn't at all discourage hunters from enjoying one of the finest deer herds in the country. "This is a great time to hunt deer in the state of Kansas," he concluded.

The Kansas archery season typically starts near the end of September and runs to the end of the year.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.