Great Plains Bow Bucks

Great Plains Bow Bucks

With another archery deer season opening soon, Great Plains bowhunters will be actively searching for the spots most likely to help them fill their tags. These tips should point you in the right direction. (August 2006)

The most common deer in the Great Plains, whitetails mostly inhabit timbered river or creek-bottom habitat. Archers will profit by hunting those areas.
Photo by Marc Murrell.

Deer hunters all across the Great Plains are anxiously awaiting the coming of fall. Bowhunters are busy shooting and readying equipment, and evening scouting trips combine with placing a few tree stands to line up the ingredients necessary for starting the archery deer season.

Here, then -- complete with a few tips, pointers and tidbits of wisdom from those most closely tied to deer management in each Great Plains state -- is some prime info with which to get your deer season off on the right foot.


How's the deer population in the northernmost state in our region?

"Good," asserted Bill Jensen, big-game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "Whitetails are found all across the state, but tend to have the highest numbers in the north and eastern portion."

Residents of North Dakota may obtain one any-deer bowhunting tag; non-residents can get one either-sex whitetail tag or, possibly, draw one of a limited number of any-deer tags -- highly coveted and issued by lottery -- that permit taking a mule deer.

"Then we have a lottery system for firearms," Jensen said. "And after it's done, archery hunters can use leftover licenses to take deer during the archery season with their bow. For all practical purposes, they're whitetail doe licenses."

Permits can be bought over the counter or via the Internet. Residents pay $20 for their permits, non-residents $200. Both will need a general game habitat license for $13 and a hunting, fishing and furbearer certificate, which are $1 and $2, respectively. North Dakota archery season dates generally run from the beginning of September, starting at noon, to the first part of January.

Archery success will vary throughout any given season. Over the years, Jensen has observed persistent seasonal trends and patterns in harvest. "There's a gradual progression through the season," he remarked, "but, frankly, a lot of our deer are harvested the last week of the season. People are holding out for a big buck, and then at the end of December you see a big surge in the kill as people realize it's their last chance to kill a deer and they arrow something."

Success at getting permission to hunt private property -- 95 percent of the land in North Dakota -- can be easy or difficult to achieve.

"Like every place else, you have to ask," said Jensen. "And if you want to shoot a doe, you'll have real good success -- but if you're just wanting to shoot a big buck, you're less likely to get it."

Public-land prospects are available for the bowhunter, too. "There's the Sheyenne National Grasslands in the southeast," offered Jensen. "The Little Missouri National Grasslands in the west. And if they get on our Web site, they can access our PLOTS (Private Land Open to Sportsmen) maps for the entire state."

Archers in North Dakota number about 15,000 to 16,000, about 2,000 of those non-resident. Bowhunters in the state typically kill about 6,000 to 7,000 deer a year -- a success rate of about 40 percent.

The only changes that Jensen looks for this fall concern the banning of a new mechanical broadhead. "You can't use the mechanical broadheads where the blades stay open," he explained. "It opens up and forms a barb and locks."

North Dakota officials have been monitoring their deer for chronic wasting disease but haven't found any yet. "We've been testing about five years," Jensen said. "Prior to that we had tested all suspect animals -- anything that looked sick."


"I think like most states, we feel like we have a strong population of deer throughout the state, mostly whitetails but some mule deer out in the western half," said Doug Hansen, wildlife division director for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

The SDDGFP doesn't do a direct estimate of the number of deer. It instead bases its determinations about management objectives on factors like success, age of the harvest and other such things.

Archery deer hunters in South Dakota are amply supplied with opportunity. "It's pretty much open entry as far as opportunity goes for residents or non-residents," Hansen offered. "We have a long season, and it's not a unit-specific permit system. So, basically, we offer the opportunities to either get a statewide license or you can get an East River and West River license with other opportunities to shoot antlerless deer in addition to that.

"With the number of archery deer hunters we have, and the number of deer we have, we feel we can provide a pretty liberal opportunity."

There aren't a lot of bowhunters in South Dakota -- about 12,300 resident and 1,500 non-resident archers chasing deer in the state and averaging a success rate running at about 30 percent. They killed 4,131 deer in 2004.

The $35 resident license is good for any deer; the non-resident license is $190. Permits are available online or by mail. "They are available by application, but they are unlimited," said Hansen. "You can get them anytime during the season."

The South Dakota archery season opens the last Saturday in September and closes at the end of December. These dates cover most of the state, but hunters should check current regulations for their chosen areas. "There are a few exceptions," Hansen stated.

Most of South Dakota's bowkilled deer go down during the rut. True? "I think that would be safe to say," Hansen affirmed. "That would be the first two weeks in November, which is pretty much the peak time. And we've been moving up the rifle seasons in the northeast part of the state a little earlier the past few years -- so I think that kind of motivates the archers to get out a little earlier."

Archery deer hunting takes place chiefly on private ground. "I think there's higher probability for getting access to some land for archery hunting than perhaps during the firearms season," said Hansen. "It's certainly

worth pursuing. But we have an abundance of public land across the state. Our game production areas and our Walk-In Program areas are open to hunting, many of which have good deer habitat and good deer hunting.

"And," he added, "there's a variety of other areas like the Black Hills, national grasslands and some of our national wildlife refuges where you're allowed to do some archery hunting."

South Dakota has localized problems with CWD in the southwest corner of the state, in Fall River County, and another spot in the Black Hills area. "We still have a real low incident rate," reported Hansen, "but we've been finding it every year. It's nothing that we feel is of great concern at this time." (For more information on CWD, check

In summing up the potential of a good hunt in South Dakota, Hansen said, "The abundance of deer is as good now as it's ever been. There are a lot of opportunities."


The Cornhusker State's deer herd is populous and slightly increasing, says Kit Hams, big-game program coordinator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "We had a record harvest last year for all seasons," he reported.

It's hard, Hams admitted, to estimate total herd numbers -- but, he added, the agency's not overly concerned about that. "We've got roughly 300,000 deer, with about 50,000 to 60,000 being mule deer," he stated. "Mule deer are in the western half of the state, and the percentage of mule deer in a county -- compared to the total number of deer in a county -- increases as you go west. Whitetails are found statewide, but some counties have very few."

Hams says that archers in Nebraska can get two permits allowing the harvest of a buck. Non-residents pay $178 for each of these permits, residents $28. Archery deer hunters also need a habitat stamp, which costs $13.

"Our archery permits are statewide, and those are unlimited," Hams stated. "You can buy them over the counter, but there are only about 10 locations where you can do that. Probably 60 percent of our permits are sold on the Internet, and probably 35 percent are sold by mail-in applications. The other 5 percent go over the counter."

Additional antlerless permits are available at the same prices as the other permits for residents. "For the first time this year," Hams noted, "we reduced the price of non-resident antlerless permits; they will be $56." He added that the number of antlerless permits a person can buy is unrestricted: "We have a couple of people that have bought large quantities. Most people buy one or two, but there's a handful that get 10, and some more that get 20."

The Nebraska archery season runs from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31, but is closed during the nine-day firearms season, Nov. 11-19.

Most of the deer killed by archery hunters in Nebraska are killed the two weeks prior to the firearms deer season, and most of that hunting takes place on private ground.

Getting permission to hunt can be a challenge. "Like everywhere, it's getting a little bit harder," Hams observed. "For archery it's relatively easy, but if you're by Lincoln or Omaha, it's not going to be easy, because there are so many archers there."

Public lands that might prove profitable include those around southwest reservoirs, Hams suggested. He pointed to Harland, Swanson, Enders and Red Willow as likely prospects. "There's a couple hundred thousand acres of public land in the northwest corner of the state with both whitetails and mule deer," he added, "and very few archery hunters."

Lane enrolled in Nebraska's walk-in program, the Conservation Reserve Program-Management Access Program (CRP-MAP), can also hold promise for the archer. "That opens up a lot of other spots that have deer," Hams said. "Southeast Nebraska has the highest density of deer in the state, and we also have a lot of small wildlife management areas there, too."

In 2004, Nebraska issued 14,600 archery permits, about 1,700 of which went to non-resident and saw 4,200 deer harvested. Archers in Nebraska have typically averaged 27 to 29 percent success rates over the last decade.

The Cornhusker State continues to monitor its CWD problems, which largely seem localized in the northwest corner of the state. Harvested or sampled deer tested positive for the disease in 13 counties.


"Outstanding" was the word chosen by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks big-game program coordinator Lloyd Fox to describe Kansas' deer population. "What a wonderful population to manage!" he said. "We've got a great herd."

Kansas harbors huntable populations of mule deer in its western third; whitetails are present statewide. "Our best mule deer habitat is going to be further west," remarked Fox. "Whitetail densities are higher in the east than they are in the west."

Fox noted that the annual fluctuations in any state's herd are obviously huge. "We probably go from 350,000 down to 190,000 deer during a year," he said. "We probably have 75,000 deer harvested annually, and about 10,000 reported deer/vehicle related accidents on a consistent basis."

Kansas recently tallied its first confirmed case of CWD, which presented in a whitetail doe shot in Cheyenne County. Subsequent testing of 51 additional deer within a 15-mile radius of that site revealed no additional positives.

Kansas archery hunters looking to fill a tag with a plus-sized buck often concentrate on the rut, which usually takes place in mid-November -- a great time to kill a buck, Fox acknowledges. But he's also noticed that other factors are often in play -- for instance, selection of a day or days for hunting.

"You can pick out all the Saturdays and Sundays when people have an opportunity to hunt," he said. "It increases as the season goes until the end of October, when it dips and then peaks in early or mid-November, and then comes back at a much lower level in December."

Most archery hunting is a private-land affair -- unsurprising, since Kansas is 97 percent privately owned. "But the public areas get a disproportionate amount of hunting pressure," Fox noted. "Probably 12 to 15 percent of the hunting occurs on the public areas, and they make up 3 percent of the surface area."

Fox didn't single out a particular public area; in his view, they all offer substantial prospects. "I think there are great opportunities to harvest a deer and have a great experience on some of our public ground," he said. "I wouldn't discourage anyone from hunting our public lands or walk-in areas -- especially if you can take off during the week."

In Kansas, roughly 20,000 archery hunters take to the woods each fall, slightly more than 3,000 of whom are non-residents. Most seem to b

e fairly proficient: The success rate, according to Fox, is near 50 percent. "It's outstanding!" he enthused.

The Kansas archery season typically starts around the first of October and runs through the end of the year. In the 2005 season, archery hunters with an archery-only permit could for the first time hunt during the firearms season in early December, providing that each wore 200 square inches of blaze orange, plus a hat.

Resident whitetail either-sex archery permits cost $32.15, but archers must choose two of the nine archery units to hunt. Additional whitetail antlerless-only game tags may be acquired, depending on location, for $12.15 each. These can be purchased over the counter until the end of the season.

Non-resident archers must apply through a drawing; the deadline is at the end of May each year. Their permits cost $322.15. Non-residents successful in the drawing can purchase whitetail antlerless-only game tags for certain areas for $22.15. Both resident and non-resident archers must have a Kansas hunting license, which is $20.15 or $72.15, respectively.

Fox doesn't see anything new on the horizon for the upcoming 2006 Kansas archery deer season, but he wants hunters to know about future possibilities for alterations in the regs. "There's a committee that's looking into a package of changes for the future," he reported. "This isn't something we're going to jump into, and we're taking a slow, deliberate process with it as we invite people to review it, comment on it and become comfortable with it.

"We want something that is simpler to understand, more flexible for people and more enjoyable for people. The idea is to simplify the process, give people greater flexibility, and adequately protect our resource."

State Web sites: North Dakota,; South Dakota,; Nebraska, www.; Kansas, www.kdwp.

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