Best Hunting in South Dakota

The sun sets over the vast South Dakota plains as a group of deer graze peacefully in the distance, surrounded by tall grass and rolling hills
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South Dakota is renowned for its vibrant wildlife and vast expanses of natural beauty, offering an exceptional destination for your hunting adventures. You’ll find the great plains of South Dakota alive with a variety of game species, from pheasants that dot the grasslands to whitetail deer grazing in shelterbelts. With more than a million acres of Black Hills National Forest located in the southwest region and numerous state parks and river systems, the state provides diverse habitats for wildlife and ample opportunities for you to immerse yourself in the outdoors.

Black Hills National Forest

The Black Hills National Forest offers an impressive hunting ground in southwestern South Dakota, comprising 1.2 million acres of public land. This forest provides a habitat rich in biodiversity, supporting a variety of wildlife such as deer, elk, and turkey, making it a prime location for big game hunters.

Location & Access

You’ll find the Black Hills uplifted against the prairie, containing the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. With vast lands accessible to the public, the forest allows you to plan your hunting trip with ease.

Wildlife & Habitat

Boasting dense forests and open grasslands, the Black Hills create a diverse habitat for pheasant and other wildlife. When hunting, you will navigate through ponderosa pine forests and rolling hills, an ideal setting for finding deer or embarking on a challenging elk hunt.

Hunting Strategies

To maximize your success, consider a slow walk along a ridgeline, which lets you stealthily cover territory and increase your chances of a successful hunt. Early mornings or late evenings may be the most opportune times to encounter game.

Outdoor Activities

Apart from hunting, the Black Hills National Forest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. When not hunting, you might partake in fishing or hiking through this impressive landscape.

Remember to secure the necessary licenses for hunting in South Dakota and Wyoming US Forest Service. Local retailers and the State Game Departments can provide these. With proper preparation and respect for the local regulations and wildlife, your experience in the Black Hills will be both rewarding and memorable.

Badlands National Park

Rolling hills, rugged terrain, and sparse vegetation make up the dramatic landscape of Badlands National Park in South Dakota

In the rugged terrain of southwestern South Dakota, you’ll find the striking landscapes of Badlands National Park. This region is notable for its layered rock formations, steep canyons, and towering spires. It’s a place where wildlife thrives amidst the mixed-grass prairies, part of the extensive grasslands that sweep across the United States.

As you explore the park, you’re venturing through a significant conservation reserve enhancement program, aimed at preserving the land and the species that inhabit it. The program plays a critical role in maintaining the natural beauty and ecological health of this area.

Wildlife watching here can be a remarkable experience. The park serves as a habitat for numerous animals, including:

  • Bison
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Prairie dogs
  • Black-footed ferrets

The latter, the black-footed ferrets, were once thought to be extinct but have now returned to the park through concerted conservation efforts. These nocturnal creatures have become a symbol of successful habitat conservation.

When hunting in the Badlands, it’s essential to understand that hunting within the National Park boundaries is illegal. However, the surrounding Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota offer various hunting opportunities. These areas present traditional hunts like deer and turkey, providing a responsible way to engage with the region’s natural environment.

For detailed information about fossil hunting and visiting, a helpful resource is National Park Obsessed’s guide. Do remember to respect the park rules and the fragile habitat during your visit, ensuring that this place remains untouched for future generations to witness its unspoiled beauty.

Custer State Park

Lush forest, rolling hills, and abundant wildlife in Custer State Park, South Dakota

When you’re in South Dakota, Custer State Park offers some of the finest hunting opportunities, set against the backdrop of the majestic Black Hills. With over 71,000 acres of diverse terrain, it’s a destination famed for its wildlife and hunting traditions.

Hunting Seasons & Game:

  • Buffalo: Known for trophy and non-trophy hunts
  • Deer & Elk: Pursue deer and elk through varied landscapes
  • Mountain Lion & Antelope: Experience the challenge of tracking these elusive species
  • Turkey: Spring season opens from April to May

Regulations & Requirements:
Before you set out, ensure you’re informed about the park’s specific hunting regulations and have the necessary permits. Hunting helps in managing animal populations within the park, thus contributing to a balanced ecosystem.

Habitat & Wildlife:
Custer State Park is not just about the hunt; it’s about the encounter with South Dakota’s quintessential wildlife. The park’s habitat supports a variety of species that thrive in the grasslands, forests, and mountains.

Essentials for Hunters:

  • Be familiar with the hunting zones within the park
  • Ensure you have the right gear for the terrain and weather
  • Respect the natural habitats by following the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles

To plan your hunting trip, visit Custer State Park Hunting and get all the details regarding licenses, season dates, and hunting guidelines. Your adventure in one of America’s largest state parks awaits.

Fort Pierre National Grassland

Fort Pierre National Grassland offers a unique public land experience in South Dakota, especially if you’re seeking an authentic pheasant hunting adventure. Spanning an impressive 116,000 acres, this tract of public land beckons with its rolling prairies and rich biodiversity.

Hunting Opportunities:

  • Pheasants: Known for its abundant pheasant population.
  • Prairie Dogs: Offers challenging small game hunting.
  • Other Species: Hunt for sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens.


  • Grasslands: Vast stretches of native grasses.
  • Mixed Use: Interspersed with private agricultural land.

When planning your hunt, you must consider the specific hunting seasons and comply with all state regulations. The terrain demands a good pair of walking boots, given that much of the grassland comprises very short grasses interspersed with areas more likely to hold game.

Tips for Hunters:

  • Look for cover within cover, areas where taller vegetation provides ideal habitat for pheasants.
  • Be prepared for weather changes, as conditions on the prairie can shift rapidly.

For an engaging and responsible hunting experience, Fort Pierre National Grasslands is a destination worth visiting. Raw beauty, coupled with wildlife conservation, makes it a remarkable hunting location in the heart of South Dakota.

Buffalo Gap National Grassland

At Buffalo Gap National Grassland, you will find over 600,000 acres of publicly accessible land that offers a diverse range of hunting experiences. This vast area is a prime habitat for various types of wildlife, which makes it one of the best hunting destinations in South Dakota.

Hunting Opportunities:

  • Small Game: Including prairie dogs and rabbits.
  • Big Game: Such as pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
  • Birds: Offering chances to hunt grouse, pheasants, and turkeys.


  • Vast shortgrass prairies.
  • Scenic badland formations.
  • Mixed-grass prairie regions.

Key Hunting Spots:

  • Near Hot Springs, you can pursue small game and experience nature viewing.
  • In proximity to Wall, South Dakota, notably south of Wall Drug, explore sections that provide ideal conditions for bird hunting.

Best Practices:

When hunting at Buffalo Gap National Grassland, always ensure you adhere to local hunting regulations. Respect the habitat and other hunters by practicing ethical hunting techniques. A valid South Dakota hunting license is required, and season dates vary by game species.

Coyote Hunting:

Coyote hunting is a popular activity here, offering abundant opportunities due to the extensive area. While some parts of the grassland may lack sufficient cover or food for coyotes, your chances of a successful hunt increase as you explore diverse areas of the grassland.

Lake Oahe

When planning your hunting adventure in South Dakota, Lake Oahe should be at the top of your list. This expansive reservoir, created by the Oahe Dam on the mighty Missouri River, gives you access to over 2,000 miles of shoreline, which is a prime area for public hunting. As a hunter, you can explore the picturesque shores for a variety of game.

Here’s what you can expect at Lake Oahe:

  • Pheasant Hunting: Follow the trails along the shores in pursuit of wild roosters. These birds are known for providing a challenging hunt, so be prepared to work for your trophies.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Combine hunting with fishing to enjoy the full outdoor experience. You are likely to catch world-class walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike at Lake Oahe.
  • Guided Tours: For a well-organized trip, consider booking a guided tour. Options like West Prairie Resort offer inclusive packages with experienced guides to enhance your hunting and fishing experience.
  • Accommodations: Comfortable lodging is available to cater to your needs after a long day outdoors. For a wilderness experience with comfort, you can stay at Brown’s Hunting Ranch near Lake Oahe.
  • Local Outfitters: Tap into local knowledge through outfitters and lodges such as The Last Resort Lodge & Outfitters and Oahe Wings & Walleye to ensure you have all you need for your hunting trip.

By including Lake Oahe in your South Dakota hunting plans, you’re in for an authentic outdoor experience that blends the thrill of the hunt with the serenity of the wilderness.

Belle Fourche Reservoir

Sun setting on Belle Fourche Reservoir, casting a golden glow on the calm waters. Surrounding hills provide a picturesque backdrop for the best hunting in South Dakota

When you visit the Belle Fourche Reservoir, you’re exploring a renowned destination for hunting and fishing in South Dakota. Created by the Orman Dam in 1911, this 8,000-acre reservoir is recognized for its contribution to agriculture and its historical significance as a once-largest earthen dam.

For your hunting expeditions, the surrounding ranchland offers a habitat rich in wildlife. Here, you could find game species such as deer, antelope, and turkey. Before you set out, ensure you have the appropriate hunting licenses, which can be acquired at local sporting goods stores or online.

  • Hunting in the Area:
    • Deer: Prime for archery and rifle hunting seasons.
    • Antelope: Known for their speed; a challenging hunt.
    • Turkey: Common during the fall and spring seasons.

In addition to hunting, the Belle Fourche Reservoir is an excellent spot for fishing, with the waters popular among anglers. You’ll find species like walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike, among others. Fishing licenses and regulations information is available through the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks website.

Whether you’re in the treestands or on the water’s edge, the Belle Fourche Reservoir area provides an immersive outdoor experience. Remember to familiarize yourself with local hunting and fishing regulations to ensure a responsible and rewarding visit.

Shadehill Reservoir

Shadehill Reservoir: Calm waters, surrounded by rolling hills and dense forests. A variety of waterfowl and game birds in flight

When you’re pursuing the best hunting experiences in South Dakota, Shadehill Reservoir deserves your attention. Located near Lemmon, this area offers you a notable blend of water and land-based activities. Whether you’re interested in big game hunting or eager to cast your line for walleye, these waters promise abundant opportunities.

Visiting Shadehill Recreation Area, you’ll find yourself on the shoreline of Shadehill Reservoir, where hunting and fishing merge seamlessly. The Bureau of Reclamation owns the land, and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks manage it, ensuring a well-maintained habitat for wildlife and a safe environment for you.

Hunting at Shadehill Reservoir:

  • Approximately 5,000 acres of public hunting land
  • Species like pheasant, grouse, and deer

Fishing at Shadehill Reservoir:

  • Popular for walleye
  • Also provides catches like smallmouth bass and northern pike

Your adventure doesn’t stop as the sun sets; camping options are available too. You can choose from primitive camping spots or RV hookups, and even rent cabins for a comfortable stay amid nature (Outdoor Recreation).

To facilitate your planning, you can reserve your campsite and apply for big game tags online, making your trip to Shadehill as effortless as it is exciting (Shadehill Recreation Area). The Shadehill Reservoir area is a standout destination for hunters and anglers looking to immerse themselves in South Dakota’s great outdoors.

Missouri River Region

The Missouri River Region of South Dakota is a premier destination for diverse hunting experiences. Renowned for its fishing opportunities, especially for walleye, the Missouri River is a fisherman’s haven. Outfitters along the river provide services for both novice and experienced anglers, ensuring that your fishing trips are both enjoyable and rewarding.

Key Locations for Fishing & Hunting:

  • For fishing: The expansive reservoirs created by dams on the Missouri River, with over 900 miles of open water, are particularly rich in fish species. Target the shores or by boat for a successful catch.
  • For hunting: Public lands in this region are abundant, giving you access to a variety of game. During hunting seasons, you might pursue sharp-tailed grouse or opt for the excitement of pheasant hunting, which has deep historical roots in this area.

Outfitter Services:

OutfittersContact Information
Alan’s South Dakota Fishing & Hunting800-435-5591
Platte Creek Lodge605-941-1679
Missouri River Lodge605-680-3877

Notable Hunting Seasons:

  • Pheasant: Autumn brings a surge of hunters keen on the challenging and rewarding pursuit of pheasants.
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse: Seek out these native birds for a unique hunting experience, typically starting in the fall.

When planning your trip, consider timing your visit to coincide with peak seasons for your chosen activity. The Missouri River Region’s offerings are crafted to enhance your hunting and fishing expeditions with rich experiences and potentially bountiful harvests.

Pierre Area

When planning your hunting trip in South Dakota, the Pierre area should be high on your list for an extraordinary experience. Situated near the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe, Pierre is the state capital known not only for its political significance but also for its exceptional hunting opportunities.

What to Expect:

  • Diverse Wildlife: With a variety of game including pheasants, grouse, and deer, your hunting experience in Pierre will be rich and diverse.
  • Abundant Public Lands: The region boasts a large amount of public hunting grounds, such as the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, offering 116,000 acres of accessible land.
Key FeaturesDescription
LandscapeRolling prairie with patches of wheat, sorghum, corn, and sunflowers.
Public AccessGame Production Areas and walk-in hunting lands.
Hunting TraditionArea is renowned for its hunting heritage, with opportunities throughout the year.

Where to Go:
For the finest upland game and waterfowl hunting, consider a visit to local establishments like Steffen Brothers Outdoor Adventures, where you can experience organized hunting packages on a family farm.

You’ll find that the Pierre area’s rich wildlife habitat and pristine water conditions make it a top destination for both hunting and fishing enthusiasts. So gear up, check the local hunting regulations, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in South Dakota’s great outdoors.

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