South Dakota Deer Population:  The state estimated the deer population at about 464,000 in 2022 with 377,000 whitetails and 87,000 mule deer.  Drought and disease in 2021, but a slight increase in the population to an estimated 495,000 deer from 480,000 in 2020 with 400,000 whitetails and 80,000 mule deer.   About 540,00 deer in 2016.  A harsh 2018-19 winter, a 2017 drought particularly in the north-central, and an outbreak of EHD in 2016 reduced populations in some areas, but in 2017 the population was recovering in the spring.  A recent population peak in 2009, but outbreaks of EHD and harsh winters have taken their toll.  Reduced hunting pressure is proposed to help the herd recover. 

South Dakota Deer News

Full South Dakota Game Fish & Parks April Update April 6, 2024 KFGO

... deer numbers are low in southeastern South Dakota following die-offs because of the severe 2022-2023 winter and hemorrhagic disease in 2023. In response, the Commission proposed changes to the numbers and types of East River Deer Hunting Season licenses..,

Draft Management Plans Available for Public Comment March 27, 2024 South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks 

... The South Dakota White-Tailed and Mule Deer Action plan, 2024-2028, is a document that will be utilized to guide deer management in South Dakota. The plan outlines harvest strategies to ensure sustainability of each deer species and its habitat while maintaining populations at levels compatible with human activity and land use...

GF&P could decrease whitetail license numbers March 18, 2024 South Dakota, Black Hills Pioneer

...  officials say they will manage for an abundance objective of 70,000 whitetail deer in the Black Hills ... using spotlight and about 250 cameras randomly placed throughout the Black Hills, they estimate a whitetail population of about 40,000...

Lawmakers wade into landowner-hunter relations with plan for special elk licenses February 21, 2024 South Dakota Searchlight

... the bill ...  would create extra licenses for South Dakota landowners and their lessees to hunt a female elk every year on agricultural land in the Prairie Elk Units... would be areas where the population is high ...

Is it hunting? 'Wild' game increasingly raised in captivity for profit December 19, 2023 South Dakota Searchlight

... “Any real hunter knows wild deer don’t look like that,” Olson said, pointing to the thick antlers and massive body, traits developed when a deer is fed a diet unattainable in the wild... sold to customers across the globe for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars...

Rapid City deer harvest set for after the holidays December 11, 2023 South Dakota, Rapid City KOTA-TV

... For the sixth consecutive year, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department recommends the harvesting of 250 deer in the city limits... The reason for this is to minimize the number of deer-vehicular incidents ...

Finding processing for big game tricky in South Dakota December 5, 2023 Argus Leader

... A sudden shortage of South Dakota butchers and meat cutters willing to process wild game has been bad news for hunters ... Some butcher shops have closed or shifted focus, while others no longer take any wild game ...

GF&P to explore possible connection between low lion harvest, declining deer population April 20, 2023 South Dakota, Black Hills Pioneer

...  Bies and Commissioner Charles Spring expressed concern that the lion population could be growing, resulting in declining deer population... the Black Hills deer population is close to 40,000 fewer than the agency’s target numbers. Game, Fish and Parks biologists Andrew Norton and Andy Lindbloom attributed the decreased deer population to an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease and the recent brutal winter conditions...

Declining deer population leads to GF&P reduced licenses April 18, 2023 South Dakota, Black Hills Pioneer

... an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease in 2021 combined with the brutal winter of 2022-2023 contributed to a significant decline in the whitetail and mule deer population. Current estimates for whitetail deer in the Black Hills are at 38,000... Overall, the department will have 3,300 fewer firearm licenses available..,

Brutal winter takes toll on wildlife across South Dakota April 12, 2023, SDPB Radio

... the state purchases feed from local farmers to lure wildlife away from livestock acreage. These so-called short stop feeding sites essentially provide feed where large herds of deer migrate.  The deer adapt to harsh winter conditions by gathering together in large herds – sometimes 100 animals or more.., 

Wind Cave backcountry to close for elk management project January 10, 2023 South Dakota, Rapid City Journal

... Approximately 40 elk will be removed and tested for chronic wasting disease... It's part of a long-range study with the U.S. Geological Survey looking to see if lower population density correlates with a lower prevalence of chronic wasting disease...

Large deer herd crosses snowy highway in McPherson County December 30, 2022 South Dakota, KELOLAND News

... In 2021, the GFP reported 115,102 resident and nonresident deer hunting licenses for a total of 132,703 deer tags. The projected deer harvest was 55,142 in 2021, down nearly 4,000 from 2020. The record deer harvest in South Dakota was 95,000 deer in 2010.  Wildlife experts say deer population across South Dakota is above 400,000 and population levels  ..,

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in New Area December 13, 2021 South Dakota, GFP News

...  a hunter-harvested adult male white-tailed deer in southern Union County along the Missouri River.  South Dakota has now confirmed CWD in 20 counties, and this is the third county where CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer east of the Missouri River in South Dakota...

Should South Dakota's East River deer season be shorter? Mitchell man petitions yes  December 7, 2022 YAHOO!News

... The GFP website says South Dakota deer hunting seasons have occurred regularly since the 1950s, with deer hunters harvesting approximately 95,000 deer during the record year of 2010. More recently, due to diseases, statewide white-tail deer harvest has hovered around 45,000...

Report All Game & Fish Violations, Permits for Dead Deer October 14, 2022 North Dakota,

... Game & Fish Wildlife Biologist Doug Leier reports that they encourage hunters, anglers, and landowners who witness a wildlife or fish violation to use the Report All Poachers hotline, or RAP...  rewards – from $100 to $1,000 ... 701-328-9921 ...

South Dakota forges on with CWD regulations in the face of a disease that yields no data October 12, 2022 YAHOO!News

... Chronic Wasting Disease ... "(In) Buffalo County, we basically know that it's probably there. So we're moving on and putting our effort to the counties to the east of that to see if it's in those counties," ...  it's impossible to completely stop the spread since CWD will still naturally spread ...

Some bowhunters call unlimited licenses for non-residents unreasonable September 2, 2022 South Dakota, SDPB Radio

...  South Dakota is the only state that allows an unlimited number of licenses to non-residents. Resident bowhunters say that results in overcrowded public hunting lands and encourages commercialization of wildlife...

Rapid City deer harvest concludes, 6,401 pounds of meat helps the hungry March 11, 2022 South Dakotda, KOTA

... In the mid 90s Rapid City began the Deer Harvest ... The City fell 10 dear short of 250, attributing that to cold weather ...

Man guilty of killing multiple deer without a license fined $13.3K January 26, 2022 South Dakota, Black Hills Pioneer

... A man who admitted to killing multiple deer without a license because they were killing his pine trees was sentenced ... 14 counts of killing big game without a license ...

Wildlife Diversity Small Grant Proposals Being Accepted January 18, 2022 South Dakota GFP

... This program provides funding for researchers, educators, and naturalists to carry out projects focused on native wildlife. Funding for the 2022 Small Grants Program totals $28,000 for projects that are focused on research of native wildlife species and their habitats... Proposals are due by February 18, 2022.  For more information, contact the Wildlife Diversity Program at 605.773.4345 or email

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in New Area December 20, 2021 South Dakota, GFP News

     Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was recently confirmed in a new area in central South Dakota. Confirmation of the disease was obtained from a hunter-harvested adult female white-tailed deer in Buffalo County..,

South Dakota has now confirmed CWD in 19 counties, and this is the second detection of CWD in free-ranging deer or elk east of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

Rapid City, Public Works Committee reviewing GF&P Annual Deer Harvest recommendations November 30, 2021 South Dakota,  Black Hills Fox

... The proposed number of deer recommended for harvesting within the City limits is 250 ... The Deer Management Program began more than 25 years ago, and the number of deer harvested in a particular year has been mas high as 300, depending on the recommendations...

East River deer season kicks off Saturday in South Dakota November 19, 2021, South Dakota, The Mitchell Republic

...There are some concerns that the deer population has suffered due to the excessively dry conditions the state experienced in 2021, along with the presence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and chronic wasting disease (CWD)  ... The dry conditions reduced watering resources and opened up some available hunting areas to emergency haying ...

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in New Area November 16, 2021, South Dakota Game,Fish, and Parks News

... Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was recently confirmed in a new area in central South Dakota. Confirmation of the disease was obtained from sick surveillance efforts coming from an adult female mule deer in Stanley County... now considered in the CWD endemic area. South Dakota has now confirmed CWD in 18 counties of western and central South Dakota...

With numbers about half what they were two years ago, task force determines no need for deer season to be held within Pierre city limits this year  October 27, 2021 South Dakota, Dakota Radio Group News

... During the count, 29 deer were observed within city limits. That’s up from 22 deer counted by the task force last year and far less than the 48 observed by the group in 2019... 


South Dakota Deer News and Information Archive by Topic: Population and Management, Deer in the News, Suburban,  Disease, Transportation

South Dakota Deer:  The harsh 2022-2023 winter has reduced populations.  Fewer hunting licenses were be issued to support populations. In their 2023 Deer Population Status Update, the state estimated the 2022 total pre-season deer population at about 464,000 with 377,000 whitetails and 87,000 mule deer. Deer confronted drought and disease in 2021 population, but an estimate reported in the press of 495,000 pre-season in 2021 indicating a slight increase over 2020For 2020 the state estimated the whitetail dear population at about 400,000 and 80,000 mule deer for a total of 480,000 deer.

The state reported an increase in the mule deer population from 2020 to 2022 from 57,500 to 86,500.  Reductions in hunting licenses for 2021-222017-18 and 2018-19 to help the herd recover.  A harsh 2018-19 winter increased deer mortality.  Some of the increase in the 2020 deer kill is attributed to increased hunter participation during the pandemic, up 16.4% from 2019 but falling again by 6.7% from 2020 to 2021.

Proposed increases in licenses for whitetails in 2019 for some areas as populations exceed goals. In 2019 scientists at South Dakota State University reported that neonicotinoids, the worlds most common family of pesticides, is likely causing serious birth defects in white-tailed deer.

In 2018 the were 43 deer farms licensed in the state, up from 5 in 2012.  The state had 1.1 million acres of public hunting land, but 80% of the land in the state is privately owned.  Research in 2018 indicates that about 66 percent of whitetal fawns survive through December each year.  Given excess demand for deer hunting, the state considered a revamp of deer license allocations with proposals starting in 2018.

Going into 2017 fewer fawns survived over winter and there had been a major outbreak of EHD east of the Missouri River.  A 2017 drought, particularly in the north-central, reduced some deer numbers but mule deer were stable to increasing.  About 71,000 deer hunters in 2017, with 52,622 resident license applications for 35,522 available licenses.  A severe 2016-17 winter damaged deer herds.  A bill allowing landowners to sell big game licenses moved to House floor in 2017.

A population estimate from the state for 2016 of 540,000 deer -- 425,000 whitetails and 115,000 mule deer.

South Dakota Deer Kill, 1975 to 2021

Source:  South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks

From the South Dakota 2017 Deer Plan: "Current statewide models estimate 2016 preseason populations of approximately 425,000 [95%Confidence Interval (CI): 320,000 – 530,000] white-tailed deer and 115,000 (95% CI: 80,000 – 150,000) mule deer… [for a total of 540,000 deer].

Hunting tags were increased for whitetails reflecting a population increase in 2016, but no change in tags for mule deer that were about stable.  Hunters returned about 1,500 licenses in 2016 as another outbreak of EHD reduced the herd in some areas.  A lottery for licenses attracted 102,000 applicants with over 51,000 unsuccesful.  Research from 2016 found annual survival rates of 80 percent for adult does, 58 percent for adult bucks, 83 percent for juveniles 5-18 months old and 63 percent for fawns.  Licenses for elk in the Black Hills were increased in 2016 to slow the growth of the Black Hills elk population

A white-tailed deer population estimate of 358,000 in 2015.   Deer numbers were down significantly in much of the state for 2015 due to severe weather, disease such as EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease), increased predation, and habitat loss.  The state noted in 2015 that "Record high deer harvest rates in the early to mid-2000s followed by 3 consecutive, severe winters in 2009-11 decreased mule deer populations throughout their range in South Dakota."   Tags increased moderately in 2015.  About 68,000 deer hunters in 2015, down from 81,478 in 2010.  The total deer harvest rose by 13 percent in 2015.  Reflecting long-term declines in the deer population, the East River firearm success rate fell from a high near 90 percent in the 1970s to about 50 percent in 2015.

The spring of 2014 was dry so downward pressure on the herd also persistent storms in 2013-14.  An estimated 100,000 mule deer in 2013 (estimate range:  73,000 to 130,000) and 200,000 whitetails.  Deer licenses were reduced significantly in 2014 to help the herd recover after a years of decline.

Reduced licenses in 2013 to increase the herd.  A drought and an EHD outbreak in 2012 set the population back.  An increase in the mountain lion hunt was proposed in 2012 to protect deer and elk.  There were 89 captive deer in South Dakota on just five operations in 2012 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

 In 2011 biologists recommend hunters kill more mountain lions in Black Hills.   

A harsh 2010 winter:  "Winter mortality on deer in the northeastern part of the state is estimated at 10 percent to 20 percent. ."

Populations peaked in 2009. A whitetail population estimate of 215,000 in 2009.  Harsh winters in 2008, 09, 10, and 14. Drought in 2012.  EHD hit the herd very hard in 2012.  Deer tags were reduced in the northwest because of EHD die-offs in 2013, but the outbreak was less severe in the rest of the state.  Over 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres have been lost since 2008, reducing habitat. Deer populations are down in northeastern South Dakota, coyote predation on fawns and less wheat being planted are causes under investigation. 

Declining populations in 2013 when the deer kill totaled 25,199 whitetail bucks, 23,275 whitetail does, 4,251 mule bucks. 2,758 mule does.  The 2013 overall statewide harvest success decreased significantly to 35% from 43% in 2012.  A 60% success rate was a target for much of the state in 2017.   Lower populations in 2012 from past harsh winters and Epizootic Hemorrahgic disease.

The 2003-04 winter was the mildest in 60 years, benefiting deer populations.

Whitetails are concentrated in the east, but in all parts of the state.   Mule deer are concentrated west of the Missouri River, declining population due to loss of habitat, hard winters, drought.  

In 2018 the were 43 deer farms licensed in the state, up from 5 in 2012.  The state has 1.1 million acres of public hunting land. 

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD):   First reported in 7 captive elk herds during the winter of 1996-97, from elk taken from the Colorado and Wyoming infection zone, and in wild deer in 2001.  In 2016, of the 260 elk removed from  Wind Cave National Park, 14 had CWD.  A 2017 study found that the mule deer herd in Converse County, was shrinking at about 21 percent a year, largely due to CWD  

As of August, 2018, 191 deer and 169 elk have tested positive since the state began tracking the disease in the late 1990s.  In 2019 CWD was found in 9 of the state's 66 counties including a 21 month old captive elk. The state asked for publc comment on their CWD Acton plan.  CWD expanded into new areas in 2020. By June, 2020, the state found 450 cases of CWD (237 deer and 213 elk) in free-ranging deer and elk since testing began in 1997.  From 2001-2021, CWD was confirmed in 243 white-tailed deer,116 mule deer, and 245 elk.  In 2022 CWD was confirmed in a new area in the southeast.

Hemorrhagic disease  An outbreak of blue-tongue or epizootic hemorrhagic disease in 2021, 2017, and 2016.   

SD Pop 91 to 01

History:   White-tailed deer (Odocoileous virginianus) and mule deer (Odocoileous hemionus) were indigenous to almost all of South Dakota prior to the American expansion west ... The Missouri River was the simplest mode of transportation for the earliest explorers to the Dakota Territory, and many of their observations indicate that both white-tailed and mule deer were abundant along the Missouri River and most of its significant tributaries prior to 1840 ...  by 1880 prospectors, market hunters, and homesteaders devastated the deer herds ...

... By the turn of the 20th century, most deer were extirpated due to unregulated harvest and market hunting. Legislation created in the early 1900s essentially closed all deer hunting across South Dakota except in the Black Hills, and by the 1950s deer populations had recovered in most areas of the state   South Dakota 2017 Deer Plan, page 1.

Mule deer rebounded into the 1930s as people left the state during the depression, but as late as 1955, no mule deer could be found in South Dakota.

Elk:   "Population models projected the Black Hills elk population to slightly decrease through the winter of 2019/2020 at which time the aerial survey population estimate was slightly below 6,500 elk."  from 2020 elk status.  The Commission allocated 443 any elk and 1,150 antlerless elk licenses for the 2017 Black Hills elk hunting season.  For 2016, 839 licenses were issued.  In 2015, 930 licenses an increase of 300 from 2014.  In 2005, there were 2670 elk licenses sold, falling to 1059 licenses in 2011A 2020 study found Cougar (Puma concolor) predation accounted for 81% of elk mortalities.

Mountain Lions:  Native to South Dakota, the "population declined in the early 1900’s due to unregulated hunting and bounties were placed on mountain lions until 1966."  The state estimates a population of about 15 in 1998, with the population roughly in the range of 200 to 300 for 2009-10 to 2018-19 with higher populations in 2010-11 and 2017-18.