The Great Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas have been known for excellent and consistent whitetail and mule deer output. Many consider the deer hunting opportunities in these states to be some of the finest in the nation. Matching the expansive agricultural habitat with adequate cover and well-managed hunting seasons, it's easy to see why these states continually produce first-rate numbers every year.
With several hard winters behind us, many have wondered what the 2011 season will have in store for Great Plains deer hunters. Fortunately, with abundant food, ample cover and quality habitat, these hearty animals are accustomed to battling the harsh winter conditions. With some insight from top big-game biologists from each state, we believe you will be pleasantly surprised at what the 2011 season holds.
The overall health of Kansas' deer herd has been on a steady increase over the past 20 years, and hunters can expect to reap the benefits of a quality management program again in 2011. Both mule deer and whitetails are available throughout the Great Plains states, but mulie abundance begins to grow in the western portions of Kansas.
The northeast quadrant of the state boasts some of the strongest whitetail populations, but anywhere that quality habitat exists in the state, you will find deer. Both overall harvest numbers and trophy output rank Kansas among the top whitetail producers in the nation.
WHERE TO START
Kansas is renowned for having abundant public access through wildlife management areas, state parks and the Walk-In Program. The Walk-In Program was developed to provide hunters with a chance to hunt privately-owned properties that otherwise would have restricted access.
"Western Kansas has the majority of land open to public hunting through the Walk-In Hunting-Area Program," says Kansas Big Game Program Coordinator Lloyd Fox. "Units (DMU) 1, 2, 3, 17, and 18 have an abundance of exceptional public-access ground. Not to be overlooked are DMUs with a substantial area managed by KDWP, which include DMU 12, 11, 14 and 7. Hunters willing to get off the beaten path and work for their deer will enjoy some tremendous hunting across the entire state."
With a healthy statewide herd of over 500,000 animals, and hunters harvesting only 92,000 during 2010, 2011 is shaping up nicely. Efforts to reduce overall populations within the denser areas have been effective, so hunters can anticipate experiencing much of the same they did during the 2010 season.
KANSAS AND CWD
(Chronic Wasting Disease)
"Chronic Wasting Disease continues to spread across Kansas and increase in prevalence," explains Fox. "The spread and increase takes many years, thus the average hunter is unable to detect annual changes. For the next 25 to 50 years, most hunters will not notice changes in deer density in Kansas that they can relate to CWD. However, this disease is unique, as deer cannot develop a resistance to it."
Fox continues, "The wildlife profession has no viable and cost effective management tool to use against this disease. As a result of this disease and without a research breakthrough in the next century, we will have a deer population that is a shadow of the health, quality and vigor of its current herd."
For additional information and extended season dates, please read the information available at: www.kdwp.state.ks.us/hunting/when-to-hunt/big-game.
During the 2010 season, Nebraska deer hunters harvested a record of 88,034 deer, 77,028 of which were whitetails and 10,709 were mule deer. A record of just fewer than 39,200 antlerless was also harvested statewide, which was the first time that the antlerless harvest exceeded the buck harvest. Since 2009, the antlerless harvest increased by nearly 9,000 animals. With a record of 141,573 permits sold, firearm permits increased while muzzleloader and archery permits decreased. The age structure is continuing to show signs of improvement, with 83 percent of mule deer bucks, and 75 percent of whitetail bucks being two years old or older.
The amount of quality habitat continues to increase, increasing the likelihood of harvesting quality animals during each season. There are bonus tags available during archery and muzzleloader season. When calculating overall harvest percentages, this means that if you fill both or several tags, you get counted twice. Match that with the Earn-A-Buck (EAB) program in the eastern part of the state and that would account for success rates being over 100 percent.
"Nebraska is now offering a special, low-cost youth permit for residents and non-residents of only $6.00," explains Nebraska Game and Parks Big Game Program Manager Kit Hams. "In 2010, we had record levels of participation, as 15,300 kids took to the field and 11,255 experienced success. Youth hunters (15 and younger) need to be accompanied by a licensed adult, and the kids need to have a habitat stamp. We felt that making this permit easily accessible and affordable would encourage more kids to experience the outdoors, and the numbers proved our assumptions correct."
WHERE TO START
"I would expect 2011 to be very similar to the 2010 harvest numbers," Hams continues. "Long term, we are looking to continue to reduce the eastern deer herd by about 25 percent, which will mean we will be seeing fewer deer and fewer permits. Don't think this means the hunting will be sub-par, rather expect more quality animals living under conditions more conducive to manageable levels and superior age structure."
Hams recommends considering the Sandhills Unit as the hunting pressure is far less and the habitat is more expansive, allowing more deer to mature and reach their full potential. The Missouri River corridor also needs to be high on the list. In general, most of eastern Nebraska contains the kind of habitat where plenty of deer will be found in substantial populations.
NEBRASKA AND CWD
"CWD is an issue we all need to be concerned with, and I foresee every state with huntable deer herds having to deal with it before its all said and done with," says Hams. "We primarily have CWD in our panhandle units where 4-5 percent of our samples are infected with CWD and we expect that to continue to grow. Folks need to be aware of it and, if they suspect an animal with infection, they should contact their local conservation officer or wildlife biologist immediately."
NEBRASKA 2011 SEASON DATES
(Dates tentative at press time.)
Youth Permits: Valid for all seasons, but good for one deer.
Archery: September 15 through December 31
Muzzleloader: December 1-31
November Rifle: November 12-20 (Or through November 22 in EAB Counties)
October Antlerless: October 1-10
For additional information please visit: www.ngpc.state.ne.us
"We anticipate the 2011 deer season to be as good, if not more productive, than the 2010 season," says Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. "During the 2009 deer season in eastern South Dakota, we had over 500,000 acres of standing corn. Over the course of that season we saw our deer harvest rates decline, but with that I would anticipate a lot of the bucks were allowed to get another year of antler growth and age. Anecdotally, we saw a lot of nice bucks harvested during the 2010 season.
"Habitat conditions look to be outstanding in both East and West River; ponds are full of water," Switzer continues. "During the 2010 season, statewide deer harvest (whitetail and mule deer) totaled out at 94,726 deer, 43,000 of which were bucks and 51,000 does.
"Because we have been working hard to better manage our herd and get the overall population numbers down to a more desirable level, I imagine over the next year or two, hunters will begin to see some minor changes in tag availability," he says. "We might even implement some slight county restrictions on our statewide muzzleloader and archery seasons. We are achieving some of those levels, so it is time to begin pulling back on our antlerless harvest."
WHERE TO START
There are 1.3 million acres of public access available through the state-owned and walk-in areas. The majority of the public access property available to South Dakota deer hunters is in the western portion of the state near the Black Hills. If you are willing to walk, and work harder than the majority of other hunters, you could be in for a tremendous hunting experience. While there is public and walk-in access across the state, don't hesitate to stop and knock on a few doors. Private land permission is not always easily gained, but the answer will always be "no" if you don't ask.
SOUTH DAKOTA AND CWD
"Obviously, CWD is a scary situation among all whitetail populations and we are paying close attention to its existence among South Dakota deer," Switzer explains. "Particularly in the southwest portion of South Dakota at Fall River, in Custer County, and the southern portion of the Black Hills, we are closely monitoring its potential. Since 1999, we have sampled around 24,000 deer with only 118 having come back with positive test results. CWD is a real problem, and the South Dakota GFP is keeping a close eye on the situation. Hunters have other things to worry about other than shooting a deer with CWD."
SOUTH DAKOTA SEASON DATES
(Dates tentative at press time.)
Youth: September 10 through January 31
Archery: September 24 through January 31
Muzzleloader: December 10 through January 31
General Rifle: Unavailable at press time
For further information please visit www.gfp.sd.gov/
North Dakota continually produces outstanding results in both the mule deer and whitetail categories. Overall, deer numbers are down across much of the state due to aggressive harvest efforts to reduce the herd to management goals. Legendary North Dakota has also endured several harsh winters in a row, which further took a toll on the deer herd.
During the 2010 season, NoDak deer hunters experienced an overall success rate of nearly 64 percent, which is up from the 59 percent during 2009. Interestingly enough, during 2010, hunters harvested 67,000 deer, which was down from 2009's 75,000. There are fewer deer now than there were a few years ago, therefore the number of licenses will correspond accordingly.
"Interestingly, the harsh winters have worked in conjunction with our management efforts in reducing the herd," says North Dakota Game and Fish Department Big Game Biologist Bill Jensen. "That's not to say there won't still be plenty of hunting opportunities. In fact, we still anticipate our harvest rates to be very similar to last year's, if not slightly higher. In a state where 95 percent of the ground is privately owned, there isn't much of a tolerance for high deer numbers, so we develop our management strategies as a result."
WHERE TO START
North Dakota has an abundance of public access in the western portion of the state, especially in the Badlands. Privately owned property must be completely posted, accurately and currently, or it is considered public access. However, it is my recommendation that you always seek the landowner's go-ahead before hunting on their property.
North Dakota also has a cool program called, PLOTS (Private Land Open To Sportsman). This is much like the Walk-In Program available to hunters in the southern Great Plains states. The state secures the hunting rights to private properties for all hunters. Please visit www.gj.nd.gov. From there, click on the "Maps/Data Resources" tab, which is in the middle of the list on the left-hand side of the page. Then click on the tab that is labeled as "NDFG PLOTS Information." This page will have a complete list of NoDak's PLOTS ground.
NORTH DAKOTA AND CWD
"We have found CWD in two mule deer along the South Dakota border over the past two years," says Jensen. "I hope that is the end of it, but it would be naive to think we won't find another animal infected. We're always concerned about disease within our deer populations and are taking the proper precautions. We will continually monitor the CWD situation within North Dakota, but part of keeping transmission down is accomplished by keeping populations in check. There are hunters that want to see more deer, farmers that want to see less deer. We are working towards a sustainable population that is healthy and disease-free."
NORTH DAKOTA SEASON DATES
(Dates tentative at press time.)
Archery: September 2 through January 8 (Noon Opener)
Special Herd Reduction Season (Selected Areas): September 23 through October 7 (Noon Opener)
Regular Gun: November 4-20 (Noon Opener)
Muzzleloader: November 25 through December 11 (Noon Opener)
Youth: September 16-25 (Noon Opener)
For additional information, please visit www.gf.nd.gov