Great Plains 2010 Deer Outlook Part 1: Top Hunting Areas
October 14, 2010
Deer hunters in Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas can look forward to another excellent year this season of chasing whitetails and mulies in widely diverse habitat. All across the Great Plains states, deer inhabit the open plains, river bottoms, croplands, woodlots and rugged mountain country.
Overall, the outlook for 2010 is excellent throughout the region. Hunters with the time, energy and know-how to fool big, healthy deer should have no trouble filling their tags.
Hunters have a unique opportunity to hunt mule deer and whitetails in the Sunflower State. Mule deer are generally limited to the western one-third of the state, primarily in the High Plains, Smoky Hills and Red Hills regions. Traveling west to east, mule deer become less abundant and whitetail numbers increase.
The state's white-tailed deer population has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. The animals may be found statewide wherever suitable habitat exists. The highest whitetail densities are in the eastern one-third of the state.
The new selective-management program has created a healthy deer herd, with excellent potential for good hunting in all regions.
Where to hunt?
Fortunately for deer hunters, Kansas has dozens of wildlife areas that are managed specifically for wildlife and offer great deer-hunting opportunities. Camping is limited on these areas; however, many wildlife areas are near state parks where excellent camping facilities are available. Some of the state's more remote wildlife areas offer primitive camping in designated areas.
Some wildlife areas offer special hunts that may limit the number of hunters on the area through a random drawing or for providing first-time hunters with a quality experience. Hunters should check with the local regional or wildlife area offices for information about special hunt options. A brochure listing special hunts along with an application is also available from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at www.kdwp.state.ks.us.
Boasting a healthy and stable deer herd and an annual harvest of more than 500,000 animals, Kansas wildlife managers are enthusiastic about hunters' chances in 2010. In fact, state biologist Lloyd Fox says hunters "have a good chance to fill their tags no matter where they hunt."
Traditional whitetail hotspots in the Sunflower State include Wildlife Units Nos. 3, 5, 7, 8 and 15 -- generally the midsection of the state, but particularly in the north and south, where there is a near-perfect mix of agricultural lands, prairie grasses, woodlots and brushy cover where deer thrive. While public lands in this region are few, the hunting is good enough to make them worth a look. Most of the public land in this area is adjacent to state fishing lakes, but a little pre-season scouting will reveal pockets of secluded cover where ambitious hunters can enjoy a quality experience.
2010 Deer Season Dates
Deer hunting in Kansas is restricted to unit(s) listed on the individual hunter's permit. The 2010 Kansas deer hunting seasons include:
'¢ Youth & Disabled: Sept. 11-19, 2010
'¢ Muzzleloader Only: Sept. 20 through Oct. 3, 2010
'¢ Archery: Sept. 20 to Dec. 31, 2010
'¢ Early Firearm (DMU 19 only): Oct. 9-17, 2010
'¢ Regular Firearms: Dec. 1-12, 2010
'¢ Extended Antlerless-Only Whitetail: (Statewide) Jan. 1-9, 2011
'¢ Special Extended Antlerless-Only Whitetail: (Units 7, 8, and 15 only) Jan. 10-16, 2011
'¢ Extended Archery (DMU 19 only): Jan. 10-31, 2011.
Hunters harvested 53,641 deer in Nebraska during the 2009 firearm season, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The harvest total represents a 3-percent decrease from the 2008 harvest of 55,507 animals. Biologists blame a lagging corn harvest for the decline. A wet October thwarted farmers, and the standing corn left plenty of cover for deer. That was the situation in eastern Nebraska, where deer-harvest totals were noticeably lower than those from a year ago.
Management district harvest totals (including percentage of change from 2008) were: Panhandle, 5,904, no change; North-central, 10,057, up 6 percent; Northeast, 10,451, down 8 percent; Southwest, 5,833, up 5 percent; Southeast, 12,350, down 12 percent; and South-central, 9,046, no change.
Deer biologists in the Cornhusker State are enthusiastic about the 2010 deer season, which, they say, will be defined as "a year of record antlerless whitetail harvest."
Goals in eastern deer units -- Blue Northwest, Blue Southeast, Wahoo, Elkhorn, and Missouri -- call for a herd reduction of 25 percent over the next three years. An unlimited number of $10 October antlerless permits will be authorized this season. And 250,000 permits and bonus tags that allow the harvest of antlerless whitetails will also be available.
For trophy hunters and meat hunters, the possibilities in Nebraska have never been better. A 20-year trend of increasingly older bucks in the harvest is expected to continue in 2010. In 2009, 30 percent of bucks harvested were age 3 or older. In some units, 90 percent of harvested bucks were age 2 or older. Even better news is that the Cornhusker State continues to produce the highest success rates for deer hunters in the Great Plains region.
The best bets for 2010 deer hunting in Nebraska are along the Missouri River, where bonus tags will be available; and in the eastern region of the state, where habitat options include agriculture and plenty of the kinds of thick cover that whitetails prefer.
Once again, biologists are also recommending the Sandhills Unit, although the habitat here is considerably more open. Permit numbers are somewhat lower here, but the hunting is excellent. Sportsmen will find plenty of deer here in 2010.
The best source for additional information on Nebraska's deer-hunting opportunities is the 2010 Big Game Guide, which may be accessed and printed from the Nebraska Game, Fish and Parks Department web site at www.ngpc.state.ne.us
Thus far, hunters have not had to worry about the various deer-related diseases that have plagued the mid-Western states. Other than the usual common parasites that affect most deer herds (ticks, lice and the like) Nebraska appears to be free of the "new" crop of diseases including chronic wasting disease, etc.
Of course, biologists will continue to sample annual deer harvests in an effort to keep tabs on the spread of such diseases and to enable officials to take steps to halt or eliminate these threats should they invade Nebraska's borders. State biologists encourage hunters to report any deer that shows signs of illness including weakness, rough coat or unusual behavior.
Hunters should be aware that much of Nebraska's best deer hunting areas lie on private property. It can be wise to include some door knocking with your pre-season scouting. Many of the top-rated deer-hunting units also contain public lands where hunters may pursue whitetails all season. For additional information or more details on where to hunt on Nebraska's public lands in 2010, consult the NGFPD at the web site noted above.
2010 Season Dates
The Nebraska 2010 deer seasons include:
'¢ Archery: Sept. 15 through Nov. 12
'¢ Nov. 22 through Dec. 31
'¢ Mule Deer Conservation Area: Sept. 15 through Dec. 31
'¢ Oct. Antlerless: Oct. 2-11
'¢ Nov. Firearms: Nov. 13-21
'¢ Muzzleloader: Dec. 1-31
The big news in South Dakota is that recent efforts to balance the deer herd in the northeastern region of the state seem to have succeeded, which is what hunters seeking to fill their tags in 2010 want to hear.
Based on the most recent harvest results, the Northeast and Northwest regions of the state are where hunters should focus their efforts in 2010. Hunter success has averaged better than 50 percent in this area in recent years, and biologists are hoping for more of the same this season.
The 2009 season projected deer harvest was 87,350 deer -- a 5 percent decrease from 2008. The harvest included 31,813 whitetail bucks and 37,680 does, plus 8,519 mule deer bucks and 9,337 does. A decrease in the overall harvest of 4,000 animals plus an increase of 14,000 tags issued explained the decrease over the 2008 hunt.
Decreases in harvest for East River, muzzleloader, youth and Black Hills hunters accounted for most of the harvest decline. Both the whitetail buck and doe estimates decreased from 2008. The mule deer buck harvest also decreased, but the mule deer doe harvest increased by nearly 800 animals. Mule deer comprise about 20 percent of the total harvest.
Hunters reported spending an average of 4.9 days afield, which was slightly higher than in 2008.
Overall, South Dakota's deer harvest numbers have been steadily on the rise since 1999. Last year's harvest was the first significant dip in deer numbers in more than a decade.
For more details, consult the web site of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks at www.sdgfp.info. Ask for The South Dakota Hunting Atlas, which is divided into 73 separate areas, each represented by a map of the area's public hunting opportunities.
2010 Season Dates
The South Dakota 2010 deer season includes:
'¢ Youth Season: Sept. 11 through January 31, 2011.
'¢ Archery: Sept. 25 through Jan. 31, 2011.
'¢ Muzzleloader: Dec. 11 to Jan.31, 2011
'¢ State Parks and Recreation Areas: Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, 2010
'¢ General rifle season: dates unavailable at press time.
North Dakota deer hunters took nearly 75,000 deer during the 2009 deer gun hunting season. Overall hunter success was 59 percent, down from 70 percent in 2008.
Bill Jensen, big-game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says the deer population was down from previous years because of the severe winter of 2008-09.
"We were issuing record to near-record licenses for a number of years because of the high deer population," Jensen says. "After the severe winter, the drop in the population was noticeable."
Jensen says the department kept the pressure on whitetails in many units in 2009 because deer numbers were still above management goals.
"In the past under similar situations, we lightened up on license numbers too quickly, and the population rebounded almost immediately to numbers well above goals," he explains.
The department allocated 144,400 deer gun licenses in 2009, and more than 98 percent were ultimately issued to hunters.
Hunter success for antlered white-tailed deer was 69 percent, while the success rate for antlerless whitetail hunters was 61 percent.
Mule deer buck success was 73 percent, while mule deer doe hunters had a success rate of 74 percent.
Hunters with any-antlered licenses had a success rate of 59 percent, while any-antlerless license holders had a success rate of 56 percent.
Hunters drawing a muzzleloader license had a success rate of 34 percent. Youth deer season hunters posted a success rate of 51 percent.
Significant snow cover last winter enabled department biologists to conduct aerial white-tailed deer surveys in January and February. Preliminary results indicate that deer in the east were hit hardest.
Unit 2A in the southeast showed the largest decline in numbers from the previous winter at more than 60 percent. Other units showing a decrease in numbers were 1, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F1, 2F2, 2G, 2G1, 2G2, 2I, 2J1 and 2J2. Deer numbers in Unit 2K2, however, showed a stable to increasing population. Units 2B and 2H remained stable.
In the western half of the state, whitetail numbers remained stable to above management goals along the South Dakota border. Unit 3A1 in the northwest showed a slight increase in numbers, while Unit 3A3 remained stable. Units 3D1, 3D2, 3E1 and 3E2 showed declines.
Outlook For 2010
While whitetails are found statewide (and in the river bottoms of the Badlands), mule deer are most prevalent in the southwestern region of the state.
State biologists remind hunters that it is illegal to hunt deer in standing crops. In 2008, storms kept farmers from harvesting their crops, and hunter success foundered as a result of that.
As usual, the management units surrounding the Missouri River are the best places to start looking for venison this fall. This area offers a variety of habitat and options for hunters to consider, along with good numbers of deer throughout the season. Should heavy snow fall early, biologists recommend hunting the lower elevations. Deer will seek refuge from inclement fall weather in the farms and river-bottom cover that abounds in the region.
Other good places to hunt include the management units southwest of the Missouri River. Hunters who focus on the area inside the quadrant bordered by US Route 85, State Route 200 and the South Dakota border should have no trouble filling their tags this season.
2010 Season Dates
ntative season dates for 2010 include:
'¢ Archery Season: (12 noon) Sept. 3 — Jan. 2, 2011
'¢ Youth (Ages 14 and 15) Deer Season: (12 noon) Sept. 17-26
'¢ Antlerless White-Tailed Deer (Ages 12 and 13) Season: (12 noon) Sept. 17-26
'¢ Regular deer gun season: (12 noon) Nov. 5-21
'¢ Muzzleloader season: (12 noon) Nov. 26 to Dec. 12
For more information and additional details on North Dakota's 2010 deer-hunting opportunities, consult the web site of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at www.gf.nd.gov. A link on the site includes several back issues of North Dakota Outdoors, where hunters can read up on deer management program updates and other related reports.