2017 Great Plains Deer Forecast

Great Plains Deer Forecast Feature
Photo Courtesy of Ron Sinfelt

Hunters across the Great Plains are eagerly awaiting the start of deer season. And there's reason to be optimistic, with deer numbers increasing in many areas. Let's take a look at a few of the highlights for the four plains states and what hunters might expect when they hit the woods and fields this season in pursuit of whitetails and mule deer. 


Deer numbers in the western two-thirds of North Dakota are increasing, while being down somewhat or stable in the eastern third, noted Bill jensen, biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Mule deer are popular here. There is a drawing for permits. Typically, there have been 70,000 to 80,000 applicants. Last year, they vied for the 49,000 permits in the first drawing.

Right now the NDGFD is trying to build the herds to greater population levels. Deer were hammered by three severe winters in a row on the northern Plains. 

"Prior to 2014 we had three hard winters in a row," noted Jensen. "We will get numbers back up to where want. Part of it depends on weather and how much habitat we will have left."

Like in South Dakota, wetlands are being drained and habitat destroyed for crop fields.

"It is a loss of habitat primarily," said Jensen. "Wetland drainage, tree rows are being taken out. There is just a lot of land being converted from habitat to agriculture practices." 

The NDGFD plans to continue increasing the deer herd. Hunters want more deer. And the number of animals is still low compared to peak years in the past. Still, the herd has come back enough from the hard winters to allow more hunting.

"We are planning on making some modest (license) increases this year," noted Jensen. "We would like to bring gun licenses up to 65,000 to 70,000 so that most people could get a deer license. Maybe a little more. Part of it comes down to landowner tolerence, too. I guess I would put the range from 65,000 to 75,000. Some people do not get licenses, even residents."

Though there remains a drawing for firearms licenses and archery mule deer licenses, whitetail archery licenses are sold over-the-counter. 

Great Plains Forecast Graphic


The South Dakota mule deer population is on an upswing, reported Corey Huxoll, wildlife biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. Mule deer are highly popular here. They're most prevalent in the western half of the state. 

SDGFP has been managing to increase the mule deer numbers by reducing the number of "any deer" licenses. That cuts harvest of does, and more fawns are born.

"We are trying to build the population, and it seems to be responding well," noted Huxoll.

Last year, West River had good hunter success rates. A natural setback has plagued the whitetail populations in recent years — EHD, epizootic hemorraghic disease. It is spread by midges, very small insects not normally noticed much by people, unless those people are fishermen pursuing finicky trout in Black Hills waters.

Midges flourish in shallow waters, especially those with muddy bottoms. In drought times, deer congregate near these prairie ponds and EHD sometimes strikes, leaving dead deer carcasses in its path.

"Deer are more exposed to the disease when they are concentrated," said Huxoll. "When the deer get it they have extreme symptoms of thirst and they go to these water holes and all you see are the dead ones."

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