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East River deer season up and running in South Dakota

Strong hunter numbers expected for 2021, disease concerns remain

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Deer on the South Dakota skyline. (Luke Hagen / Mitchell Republic)

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Another popular outdoor season in the state kicked off Nov. 20 when the 2021 South Dakota East River deer season began, and officials were again expecting a large contingent of resident and nonresident hunters to take position in their stands in an attempt to bring in that trophy buck.

“It’s hard to believe it’s that time again already,” said Chad Switzer, wildlife program manager with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks in Pierre. “But the outlook with weather is going to be pretty darn nice, and it looks like the rut is going pretty well in this part of the world right now.”

That should bode well for hunters as they start the season, which runs from Saturday, Nov. 20 and concludes Dec. 5. East River antlerless deer season will start up Dec. 11 and run through Dec. 19. The West River deer season is already underway, having started Nov. 13 and continuing through Nov. 28. West River antlerless season runs the same dates as East River.

State officials are predicting a typically busy season, with plenty of hunters and a good amount of deer to both be roaming the prairie.

In terms of hunters, Switzer said virtually all of the available licenses have been gobbled up for 2021. There were 24,240 resident licenses available for this season, and most, if not all, are expected to be in use at some point during the season.

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“I would say we sold pretty much every license we had available. Deer hunting is just an attractive outdoor activity for residents and non-residents,” Switzer said. “People love to deer hunt.”
Switzer said there is no official allocation of nonresident licenses, but they are available later in the application process. And some tags are returned after they have been obtained for a variety of reasons, including COVID-19 travel concerns or landowners being hesitant to host hunts due to uncertain deer numbers on their land.

“We have had quite a few tags returned, whether it was for COVID-19 concerns or because of landowners not telling hunters it’s not going to be a good year,” Switzer said.

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), two afflictions that have been plaguing state herd populations for the last several years.

The dry conditions reduced watering resources and opened up some available hunting areas to emergency haying, which may push some deer away from those locations. And while CWD and EHD had impacted South Dakota deer, numbers should remain relatively favorable, Switzer said.

White tails should be a common sight East River, and while mule deer are generally considered more of a West River specialty, they can also be found east of the Missouri River if hunters look in the right places.

“Prior to the (EHD) that occurred, things looked really good, but white tail populations are strong across much of South Dakota. Mule deer in eastern South Dakota are in a marginal habitat and range and are mostly restricted to adjacent to the Missouri River,” Switzer said.

A white-tailed deer in Sanborn County in South Dakota. (Luke Hagen / Mitchell Republic)

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Disease watch

Game officials are still concerned about the presence of EHD and CWD in South Dakota, and are asking hunters to be on the lookout for signs of them as well as the safety procedures for dealing with deer.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease of deer, elk, and moose that is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. Animals infected with CWD show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression, loss of muscle control and eventual death. Chronic wasting disease is always fatal for the afflicted animal. The disease can not be diagnosed by observation of physical symptoms because many big game diseases affect animals in similar ways.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is a disease that mainly affects white-tailed deer in the United States. This disease is caused by a virus that is spread by a biting midge. The disease usually affects deer herds in South Dakota in the late summer or early fall.

EHD can affect mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk and pronghorn in South Dakota, but it primarily impacts white-tailed deer. EHD is the most common occurring viral disease of white-tailed deer in the United States. The southeastern portion of the United States has EHD outbreaks every year with relatively few losses of animals. The northern plain usually sees minor disease losses, but some years, losses can be significant, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website.

The diseases have prompted some changes to hunting procedure and have altered some deer transportation rules, which can be found on page 67 of the GF&P Hunting and Trapping Handbook.

Maps of where EHD and CWD has been tracked in South Dakota can be found on the GF&P website.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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