Great Plains Deer Forecast for 2015
September 03, 2015
Across the Great Plains, there are a variety of predictions for the 2015 deer seasons. Kansas expects to have a very good season, while North Dakota has seen a dramatic drop in licenses due to hard winters and the loss of habitat. South Dakota is rebuilding its mule deer herd, and Nebraska biologists recommended bowhunting public lands for a good chance at success.
"Last season (2014) hunters took about 97,000 deer in Kansas," Lloyd Fox, big game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, reported, "which was a good increase over the previous year. Of that number, 91,500 were whitetails, with about 2,400 mule deer. The state knows approximately 3,400 additional deer were taken by hunters who didn't give us any information."
Kansas provides a segmented harvest report, listing the way hunters hunt deer and the sporting arms used.
"We have about 120,000 deer hunters in Kansas, so we sample about 20,000 hunters," Fox reported.
Bowhunters took around 26,000 deer in 2014 with compound bows, approximately 770 deer with longbows or recurves and about 5,500 with crossbows, he noted.
Inline muzzleloader hunters took about 3,500 deer, traditional blackpowder rifle shooters harvested around 670 deer, while modern riflemen took around 57,000 deer, Fox continued. Shotgun and slug gun hunters harvested 370 deer; and pistol hunters 225 deer, Fox reported.
The eastern third of Kansas, primarily along the Missouri and Oklahoma borders, homes the highest concentration of whitetails. This likely is due to the diversity of the habitat, including agriculture for food, streams, rivers and an abundance of escape cover.
To take a mule deer, Fox recommended you hunt northwest Kansas, due to its rugged country.
"Good mule deer range must have places where mule deer can move into rough terrain and find sanctuary from hunting pressure, and this portion of the state provides that," Fox explained.
"2014 was the third highest year for deer harvest in our state, as far as number of deer being taken," Fox noted, adding that 2014 might be the best year Kansas ever had for antlered deer harvested. Kansas's deer herd is still growing, although the state has had disease problems in the past and a severe drought in 2010-2012 in the southeastern corner. The deer herd has rebounded in 2013 and 2014, he said.
"I believe the 2015 season will be a very good year for Kansas deer hunting, especially if our state can receive plenty of rain and not experience an outbreak of EHD like that of 2012 in the north-central section," Fox reported.
To aid the deer herd in this area, the numbers of deer permits have been decreased, and mule deer permits.
"We'd seen a decline in the number of mule deer, especially along the eastern fringe of their distribution," Fox said. "We wanted to reduce the harvest pressure by eliminating the antlerless permits for both whitetails and mule deer there. But overall, as I mentioned, I'm expecting a very good year for Kansas deer hunters in 2015."
When looking at hunter success from KDWPT data, Unit 3 reported a 59.7 percent rate, while Unit 1 followed at 58.6 percent. Unit 2 recorded 57.9 percent success, and Unit 13 hunters had 57.5 percent success. Unit 5 hunters reported 56.9 percent success. For information on Kansas, visit KDWPT.state.ks.us.
To successfully hunt whitetails in Nebraska, go to the rivers. Kit Hams, the big game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said, "Nebraska has 1,800 miles of rivers with an abundance of timber on them that hold whitetails."
Hunters harvested about 52,000 Nebraska deer in 2014, but during the peak harvest in 2010, about 90,000 deer were harvested. The state lost about one third of its whitetail herd after 2010 to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). Hams reported that these outbreaks were the worst he'd seen in 30 years.
"We only have about 3 or 4 percent of the land in Nebraska that's open for public hunting," Hams explained. "These public hunting areas attract plenty of deer hunting pressure during gun deer season but have very little hunting pressure in archery deer season when only about 16,000 archers hunt. So, your chances are much better for taking a deer on public lands during archery season."
Nebraska has many small Wildlife Management Units. Use Google Earth to study these public hunting regions before and during hunting season by searching for timber and water to identify where to hunt. Nebraska's largest WMUs in the Sandhills and western Nebraska feature grasslands and sand dunes but have a lower density of whitetail and mule deer, approximately only one to two deer per square mile.
Pine Ridge in northwestern Nebraska has been fairly good for producing whitetails, according to data. That area was hit hard by EHD, although it seems to be recovering well.
"The last outbreak of EHD at Pine Ridge was two years ago," Hams reported. "The age structure for 2- year-old bucks is very good, but we don't have very many 4- to 5-year-old bucks there."
Some of Nebraska's largest concentrations of whitetail deer are found around Omaha in Douglas County, primarily due to its two rivers, Hams noted. Sarpy County, adjacent to Douglas County, the home of several Omaha suburbs, has three rivers. Traditionally, Sarpy County has been one of the best counties for taking whitetails. However, all the land is private, Hams reported.
Although Nebraska's mule deer population is down about 20 percent due to drought, predation, brain worms and EHD, the state still is in the top 10-15 years of its mule deer populations.
"Our largest concentration of mule deer is in the western half of the state," Hams said. "Sandhills and Pine Ridge historically have been productive places for taking mule deer. However, a parasite called brain worms has hit the herd, and a drought also occurred here from 2008 to 2012."
Biologists said the bright spot for mule deer has been the southwest region, including Upper Platte, Frenchman, Platte and Buffalo south of the North Platte River, since they have not been hit as hard by brain worms as some others.
Because of the high success on Frenchman, the access to these mule deer has become extremely limited and is the only unit where obtaining a mule deer permit is difficult, Hams noted. There are drawings for both residents and nonresidents.
When looking at overall harvest numbers from Nebraska Game and Parks for both whitetail and mule deer adult bucks, Frenchman leads with 3,322 harvested last season. Wahoo reported 2,839, and Buffalo, Blue Southeast and Republican each had more than 2,400 deer harvested.
Nebraska biologists expect hunters to harvest more whitetails and mule deer in the 2015 deer season than in 2014.
"In 2012, prior to HD outbreaks, the brain worm epidemic and the drought, Nebraska's mule deer and whitetail populations were too large, due to good reproductive success and hunters not harvesting enough antlerless deer to keep the herd in balance," Hams explained.
"The state learned that only 10 percent of the hunters used their antlerless deer tags that came with their hunting permits. The state then established an earn-a-buck system, requiring deer hunters to harvest an antlerless deer before checking in a buck."
A copy of Nebraska's "2015 Big Game Guide Book," with county harvest and deer density information and the age structure of the WMU deer will help you plan your hunt. In addition, the "Nebraska Public Access Atlas" is a free resource for deer, turkey and waterfowl hunters, including the public land you can hunt and maps. Visit www.outdoornebraska.org for more.
For South Dakota's 2014 East River firearms season 39,161 tags were issued, and hunters harvested more than 19,000 deer. For the West River firearms season, 25,749 tags were issued, with more than 13,000 deer harvested. Bowhunters statewide took more than 1,100 whitetails and 150 mule deer, and muzzleloader hunters harvested about 500 whitetails and 70 mule deer.
"Whitetails live throughout the state, but the eastern part of South Dakota is predominantly whitetail habitat," noted Chad Switzer, the wildlife program administrator for South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks. "Some of the heavily-populated mule deer counties with their creeks, river bottoms and wooded draws also home whitetails in the state's western part and also in eastern South Dakota. Brown and Faulk Counties have a high whitetail deer population. Generally whitetail deer hunting is good statewide."
"The western part of South Dakota west of the Missouri River is where you'll find our best mule deer range," Switzer noted. "Our population and our harvest have declined. We've had to remove some of the harvest opportunities, especially the antlerless mule deer, from our hunters, so the herd can rebuild and grow."
South Dakota also has implemented some monitoring programs with the existing mule deer population by radio monitoring female mule deer and planning to radio monitor mule deer fawns to determine the annual fawn and doe survival rate.
"Then we can see what type of recruitment we're getting in the mule deer population and also determine what's causing mortality in these two segments of the mule deer herd," Switzer noted. "We don't know for certain what's caused the mule deer population decline, but some of the unlimited statewide licenses may have led to unintentional overharvest.
The state has reduced the types of tags issued for certain hunting areas. Too, some loss of habitat, natural predation on our fawns, hard winters and statewide drought may have added to the problem."
To take a big mule deer in South Dakota, hunt private lands and the public lands along the Missouri River from North Dakota to Nebraska.
Check out the public lands in western South Dakota with their vast open prairies and good mule deer habitat and numbers. Many hunters prefer hunting the northwestern portion of South Dakota where Harding and Perkins counties have a vast amount of public lands available, including national forest lands, that are enrolled in the state's walk-in programs.
In western South Dakota too, Pennington and Meade counties along with the Black Hills may offer good mule deer hunting.
For last season, SDGFP said the Black Hills recorded 2,410 deer harvested with firearms and 648 by bowhunters. Other top performing units included 28A, with 1,379 deer harvested by firearms, 60 A, with 1,265 firearms deer taken and 26A, at 936 deer. For bowhunters, 03A produced 312 deer harvested, while O1A reported 205. The harvest data above was estimated based on survey results from hunters.
"You'll see very few, if any, changes in seasons and regulations from the 2014 seasons and regulations in 2015," Switzer explained. "From the radio collaring program on both fawns and adult does, we've seen a high survival rate, since hunters aren't harvesting many does. We're also seeing pretty decent fawn recruitment, and due to the reduced hunter harvest, we expect to see some growth in our whitetail deer population.
Our state was extremely dry through the late spring of 2014, so we're not sure how this will affect deer numbers through the summer of 2015. But if 2015 has normal weather patterns, I think our deer hunters should have a pretty good season this year. All our firearms are limited draws, and our antlerless licenses for archery and muzzleloaders are limited to one animal per hunter." Go to www.gfp.sd.gov to learn more.
"Last year gun hunters harvested a total of 2,729 mule deer and 23,605 whitetails in North Dakota," Bill Jensen, a big game biologist for North Dakota, reported. "The archery harvest was estimated to be 46 mule deer and 5, 613 whitetails. Blackpowder hunters took 256 whitetails, and the youth deer season hunters harvested 90 mule deer and 241 whitetails."
If you're looking for North Dakota whitetails, Jensen recommended the south/central section of the state where there's 10 to 15 wildlife units. If you want to take a mulie buck, Jensen suggested you consider the Badlands, along the Montana border, which is the outer edge of mule deer distribution in the state.
"Our state has gone through three hard winters in the past five years," Jensen noted. "In 2009, the state issued more than 140,000 deer licenses, and in 2014, we only issued 48,000."
The state also lost about 3.5 million CRP acres, Jensen reported.
Top units for hunter success in 2014 were: Unit 3D2 (83.1 percent), 3D1 (79.1 percent), 2G (79 percent), 2G2 (78.4 percent) and 2J1 (77.9 percent), according to North Dakota Game and Fish Department reports. For more, go to www.gf.nd.gov.