In late October I spent a week hunting mule deer in South Dakota. Though the tag ended up being a waste of money, I learned some valuable lessons. I had assumed things about mule deer and South Dakota that ended up being wrong. Here are a few tips to help you plan a mule deer trip, and bring home the bacon.
It’s hard to think of a tag that offers more opportunity than a South Dakota deer tag. Not only can you hunt anywhere in the state, you can choose to shoot either a whitetail or a mule deer. If you’re an archery hunter, the season lasts from October to January, and the tag can be bought over the counter at a local game fish and parks office. That being said the tag is $290, and other states possess greater quantities of trophy mule deer.
Do Your Research
My plan was to not have one. I had hunted antelope in Wyoming successfully without much prep time, and I have hunted whitetail for years. I thought I could pattern a mule deer within a few days and get the job done. I underestimated my opponent. Additionally, I had trouble taking advantage of public land. While some states may impress you with the total number of public acres available to hunt, accessible public land is another story. Privately held land borders the highway and blocks off many opportunities. I took a climbing trip in the spring to South Dakota and wish I had spent a day or two jdriving around planning my deer hunt. I ended up growing impatient and hunting subpar land because I had not allowed myself time to find the best areas.
Where to Find Deer
The best numbers of mule deer live along the Wyoming border. In the southwest, the Black Hills national forest provides dense trees and rugged slopes, if that’s what you’re into. In the northwest you will see a lot of deer, but getting into range can be tricky. The flat grasslands offer little cover to hide behind. There are areas with cliffs and washes. If you can get access, that will be your best bet for spot and stalk. I used OnXmaps, but a lot of northwest South Dakota does not have cell reception. I also carried a Delorme Gazetter to identify the largest areas of BLM land as well as game production areas and other public hunting land. If you take the time I am sure you can find quality areas for hunting mule deer. Just make sure you build the time into your trip.