Hunting in South Dacota

In terms of hunting, South Dakota’s reputation certainly precedes it. Home to the iconic Mount Rushmore, this Midwestern state holds the enviable honor of being one of the best places on earth for pheasant game hunting.

But before gearing up to hunt in South Dakota, here are some essential things that you ought to know about hunting in the Mount Rushmore State. For further details pertaining to hunting schedules and hunting fees, hunters are advised to visit the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to keep up with any changes that may take place.

Obtaining a South Dakota Hunting License

South Dakota subjects hunters to a number of eligibility requirements. The following are the key steps that must be completed before the hunting license can be acquired:

  1. The South Dakota Hunter Education Certification
  2. Select the appropriate type of license
  3. Actual purchase of hunting license from the state’s official website or licensed agents in the state.

***Conditional to the hunter’s age, successful completion of the South Dakota HuntSAFE may be a requirement before being allowed to purchase a hunting license***

South Dakota Hunter Education Course (HuntSAFE Certificate)

The hunter education certification is mandatory for all persons under 16 years of age who hunt in South Dakota. The minimum age to take South Dakota’s online hunter education is 11 years old. However, persons below 12 cannot acquire this certification.

The hunter education course comes in two formats: classroom courses and an internet-based format. Interested applicants can consult this link for further information.

With respect to the online course, students are given two exam attempts for free. Click this link to view the course structure and fees.

Upon successful completion, all students (irrespective of whether online or classroom mode) of the course must attend an Independent Study Field Day before obtaining the Hunter Safety Certification. They are also required to pay a fee in order to receive a field day qualifier voucher.

It must be noted that the HuntSAFE certification does not qualify the hunter for a Bowhunter Education Certification.

Resident Hunting License in South Dakota

The law states that legal residents of South Dakota of 16 years and above must have a resident hunting license. For some game animals, specific hunting licenses and permits may be required.

South Dakota hunting laws define a legal resident as one those who have resided legally in the South Dakota for at least 90 days. This said person must have a domiciliary resolve by maintaining a fixed abode of residency in South Dakota.

To prove a residency status, the state requires that persons 16 or older furnish the following: a valid voter registration card, or income tax reports, or a valid South Dakota driver’s license. For youth hunters under age 16, a Hunter safety education certificate should suffice. Also, the said resident cannot make a claim of residency in any other state or foreign country. The state also bans them from claiming residency privileges from another state or foreign country.

Nonresident Hunting License in South Dakota

A non-resident of South Dakota is defined as one who has not legally resided in South Dakota for up to 90 days. These people are eligible for a nonresident hunting license in South Dakota. Again, additional licenses may be required of them for a specific set of game animals.

Other Notable Hunting Licenses and certifications in South Dakota

  • Big game licenses: this license covers the following game animals: turkey, gopher, ground squirrel, jackrabbit, prairie dog, marmot, skunks, red fox, and grey fox.
  • Youth hunting license/ Youth small game licenses: persons of at least 12 years old are eligible to apply for this license. They must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when seeking to obtain the license.
  • Combination License (ages 16 to 18): these licenses carry the same individual privileges as the fishing license and Small Game license. Exempt from these privileges are the ones of the State Migratory Bird Certification. For more information about the combination license, click this link.
  • Senior Hunting License: at a reduced fee, persons 65 years or older can acquire this License. The laws require them to stick to small game and fishing.
  • Disability License: the State of South Dakota makes provision for persons with total disability to apply for, at a reduced fee, disability hunting, and fishing license. The duration period of this license is 4 years. To find out more about this license, please visit this link.
  • Federal Waterfowl Stamp: This stamp allows hunters 16 and older hunt geese, tundra, sawn, ducks and merganser. These stamps can be obtained from any local U.S. Postal Office and/or local authorized agent. The stamp must be carried at all times when hunting any of those animals. Both residents and non-residents require the Federal Waterfowl Stamp
  • State Migratory Bird Certification: This certification covers: ducks, tundra swan, mourning doves, snipe, Sandhill crane and coot. Non-residents very much need this certification as well in order to be eligible to hunt these games. Hunters who buy the certification get to have the Non-resident Waterfowl Licenses as well.
  • Predator/Varmint License:  this license is needed to hunt the following: coyote, porcupine, marmot, grey fox, skunk, badger, prairie dog, crow, red fox, gopher, and ground squirrel
  • Furbearer License: these licenses are meant for trapping of fur-bearing animals such as coyote, grey fox, raccoon, badger, bobcat, jackrabbit, red fox, opossum, beaver, skunk, weasel, and mink. South Dakota residents do not need a furbearer license to trap skunk, raccoon, badger, red fox, jackrabbit, grey fox and coyote from April to August.

Also, youth hunters under the age of 16 do not require a furbearer license for these animals.

However, nonresident hunters require a Nonresident Furbearer License to hunt any fur-bearing animal in South Dakota.

Resident Landowners in South Dakota

Resident landowners don’t require hunting or Furbearer licenses to trap and hunt fur-bearing game as well as small game. Direct or immediate family members residing with the above mentioned category of landowner are entitled to this benefit as well.
They are also exempt from licensing requirements for waterfowl hunting on their premises.

Non-resident Landowners in South Dakota

Non-resident landowners don’t get any preferential treatment. They must buy the applicable nonresidential licenses.

Application Process and Fees for Hunting Licenses

Those seeking to purchase a hunting license in South Dakota can secure it online or from licensed agents, or the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The annual hunting license validity period is from December 15 to January 31 of the year after next.

Licenses cannot be refunded or transferred after being issued.

Both resident and nonresidents can buy licenses from many retail stores in South Dakota. A form of identification (such as a state-issued identification or voter registration card) is mandatory when purchasing over-the-counter licenses.

All hunters must have in their possession their licenses when hunting, and upon request by a conservation officer, hunters must exhibit their licenses. Hunters can exhibit electronic copies of their licenses if requested by a park or conservation officer.

All the details about the fees for respective hunting licenses can be found at this link.

Overview of Hunting Regulations in South Dakota

Here are some top hunting regulations worth knowing before embarking on a hunting expedition in South Dakota:

  • The State of South Dakota completely forbids the hunting, shooting, or trapping on a private land without the owner’s approval. Also, a hunter requires the permission of the landowner adjacent to the roadside that is being hunted.  A hunter will need a written permission from the owner of the property where a wounded game enters.
  • Killed game animals shall not be abandoned or transferred to another person without the proper tagging. The donor’s name, address and hunting license number are required. A signature and date is also required.
  • Possession and transportation of live migratory birds are prohibited.
  • Trappers must set free any game caught in the snare after the season closes.
  • Dog owners are not allowed to use dogs to purposely flush birds from a private land. Owners who let their dogs remain on private properties without permission may be charged with trespassing.
  • With the exclusion of turkey and mountain lion hunting, all big game hunters must wear a garment with a fluorescent orange while hunting.
  • The use of a self-loading or auto-loading firearm that has more than six cartridges is strictly forbidden. Similarly, a fully automatic firearm must not be used to shoot at, wound, pursue or kill any big or small game animal.
  • Hunting big game animals in groups of more than 20 people are prohibited.
  • With the exclusion of mountain lion, hunters are not allowed to communicate the location of game animals over the radio or any other mechanical device.

For further details pertaining to the general hunting regulations in South Dakota, hunters can visit this link.

Places to Hunt in South Dakota and Maps


There over 5 million acres of hunting public and private land in South Dakota designated for hunting. Also, South Dakota has a state-of-the art map (the South Dakota Public Hunting Atlas) that shows in precise details the various private and public access areas available for hunting. Hunters are advised to periodically read and keep up with the most recent updates that occur within the hunting atlas. Here are the 6 main places to hunt in South Dakota:

  1. Game Production Areas (GPA)—these areas are open to the public for hunting, fishing, and trapping. In total there are about 730 Game Production Areas. This equates to more than 281,000 acres. For more information on public hunting areas in South Dakota, please visit this link.
  2. Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA)—these areas total about 150,000 acres. The public is allowed to hunt, trap and fish in these areas.
  3. Controlled Hunting Access Program (CHAP)—they are private ranches and farms leased to the public to hunt. Hunters do not need permission to hunt these areas. Due to safety issues, driving is strictly forbidden off trails.
  4. Elk Hunting Access Program (EHAP)—these are private lands purposely leased to the public for the hunting of elks. Hunters need permission to hunt in these areas. As a result of potential danger to the game’s habitat, driving is not allowed on these areas.
  5. Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)—these areas are open throughout the year for public hunting and fishing. Currently, the CREP has over 810,000 acres of land available.
  6. Walk-in Areas (WIA)— These access programs, known as walk-in hunting areas, give public access to hunt on private lands and ranches. So far, there are over 1.2 million acres that are seasonally opened. Hunters need permission to hunt these areas. Driving is strictly prohibited in these areas, except on labeled trails. Private landowners can visit this link to find out more on how to enroll onto hunting access programs.

By clicking this link, readers can find extensive details on accessible private and public areas to hunt in South Dakota.

Hunting facilities, Guides and Outfitters in South Dakota

Private hunting guides and outfits are the fulcrum of hunting in South Dakota. They have vast stretches of land that offer wonderful hunting experiences and guidance to hunters. These wholesome services range from equipment training and handling, lodging and supervision. The following are some of the most well-renowned hunting guides and outfitters in South Dakota:

Antler Ridge Lodge
C & D Outfitters
Bruns Outfitters
Bolton Ranch Outfitters
High Prairie Lodge & Outfitters
Coteau des Prairie Outdoors
Crooked Creek Outfitters
Talon Outfitters

To explore other private hunting guides and outfitters, please click on this link.

South Dakota Hunting Seasons

The hunting seasons in South Dakota varies from type of game and species. The following extract provides a brief description of the hunting season vis-à-vis the type of game to be hunted:

Small Game Hunting Seasons in South Dakota

Small game hunting in South Dakota encompasses: Ring-necked pheasant, prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse, gray partridge, chukar, quail, duck, Canada goose, waterfowl and white-fronted goose.

Furbearer Hunting Seasons

Some of the species of furbearers that can be hunted in South Dakota include: muskrat, bobcat, beaver, mink, weasel, opossum, coyote, skunk, fox, badger and jackrabbit.

Big Game Hunting Seasons

Big game hunting in South Dakota encompasses: antelope, deer, and elk. These seasons, in addition to bighorn sheep, mountain lion and mountain goat are for resident license holders only.

  • Antelope Hunting Seasons

These antelope populations in South Dakota have dwindled as compared to the past. To the west of the Missouri river, antelope densities are high. There are two main seasons for antelope hunting: Archery and Firearm Seasons. Click on this link to view specific details and datelines pertaining to the current antelope hunting seasons in South Dakota.

  • Deer Hunting Season

In the year 2010, a record, 95,000 deer were hunted in South Dakota. The most commonly hunted deer in the state are whit-tailed deer and mule deer.  The hunting seasons for deer are generally categorized into: youth season, archery, East River, West River, Cluster State Park, Refuge and Muzzle deer seasons. Hunters are advised to click this link to view all the current dates related to dear season.

  • Elk Hunting Season

Most of the state’s elks are at the Black Hills area in South Dakota. It must be noted that elk hunting licenses are only given to eligible South Dakota residents. Black Hills Firearms, Prairie Firearms, Black Hills Archery, Custer State Park Archery Early, and Custer State Park Firearms Antlerless Elk are the major elk hunting seasons in South Dakota. For more information on the various elk hunting seasons and specific application periods, please visit this link.

Turkey Seasons

Dominating the East of the Missouri river is the eastern wild turkey. To the west of the Missouri River is the Merriam’s subspecies. The hunting seasons for turkey can be categorized into two: fall season and spring seasons.
Interested hunters can view this link to explore detailed turkey hunting season dates and applications.
Note: It is completely prohibited to shoot turkey in a tree or roost. However, hunting turkey with lead shot on all public lands is legal.

Waterfowl Hunting Seasons

There are quite a number of waterfowls famously hunted in the State of South Dakota. Examples include: duck, Canada goose, youth waterfowl, white-fronted goose, light goose and tundra swan.

Varmint/Predator Hunting Seasons

Some of the varmint/predator game animals in South Dakota are: beaver, bobcat, coyote, muskrat, raccoon, prairie dog, mink and weasel
This link provides further details and datelines pertaining to the various hunting seasons in South Dakota.

Accommodation for Hunters in South Dakota

The only non-negotiable thing in every hunter’s life is resting after an exhilarating and physically draining hunt. As a result, the nature of one’s accommodation has a direct bearing on the success of the hunting exercise. Here are some places popularly famous for housing hunters in South Dakota:

White Lake Hunting Lodge
Address: 24945 374th Ave, White Lake, SD 57383, USA
Telephone: 605-770-1295
Website: whitelakehuntinglodge.com

River Hills Lodge
Address: 27839 366th Ave, Platte, SD 57369, USA
Telephone: 616-735-3449
Website: riverhillslodge.com

The Grand Lodge
Address: 33686 US-14, Highmore, SD 57345, USA
Telephone: 605-852-3200
Website: grandlodgehunting.com

Dakota Prairie Lodge & Resort
Address: 35451 253rd St, Kimball, SD 57355, USA
Telephone: 855-735-6343
Website: sd-pheasanthunting.com

Clarion Inn
Address: 43496 Lakeshore Drive Yankton, SD 57078, USA
Telephone: 605-665-2680
Website: LewisandClarkPark.com

Frequently Asked Questions about hunting in South Dakota

Q. What age can my child start hunting?

A. The legal minimum age to hunt is 12 years and above. Residents and non-residents who meet that age must however possess hunter education certification to be eligible.

Because the state prohibits them from hunting, persons between the ages of 10 to 15 must be accompanied by a licensed hunter or hunting mentor. This mentor can be a parent or a guardian or persons 18 years or more. The mentored hunter must also be South Dakota resident with a hunter safety certification. Check out this link for further details on the mentor hunting program.

 Q. How much is the South Dakota hunting license?

A. There are several forms of hunting license in South Dakota. For an up-to date fee structure of any South Dakota hunting license, please visit this link.

Q. Will I be exempted from taking the HuntSAFE course because I have certification from another state?

A. Yes. South Dakota accepts certifications from all states or provinces in the U.S. that meet IHEA-USA (the International Hunter Education Association) requirements.  In some cases hunting licenses from foreign countries are even accepted. Check this link for further information.

Q. I am physically disabled. How do I go about hunting in South Dakota?

A. You can obtain the Disability License. It grants the holder to shoot game animals from a stationary motor vehicle. This includes both small game animals such as grouse, pheasants, partridge, rabbits and waterfowl, and big ones such as dear, turkey, antelope and elk.

Also, the State of South Dakota makes provision for persons with total disability to apply for, at a reduced fee, disability hunting and fishing license. The duration period of this license is 4 years. See this link for further details.

Q. What are the regulations surrounding the use of dogs to hunt?

A. Hunters must maintain control of their hunting dogs at all times. Dogs are not allowed to be used for big game hunting, except when it is held on leash and under the control of the handler.

Dogs can’t be used to purposely flush birds from a private land. Owners who let their dogs remain on private properties without permission may be charged with trespassing.

Conclusion

Prior to reviewing the State of South Dakota, one would have imagined that the state’s only jewel would have been pheasant hunting. Quite evidently, and as shown above, the state can hold its own when it comes to big game hunting and furbearing. The state laws and eligibility requirements concerning all hunting activities are succinctly written well, and very much enforced appropriately.

Final verdict: South Dakota should be up there in your bucket list of states for hunting.


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