South Dakota: A True Hidden Gem for Trophy Deer


South Dakota obviously is the No. 1 destination out there for pheasant hunting, and most serious waterfowlers know how good that hunting is, too, but what most folks don’t know is how stellar the mule deer (and whitetail) hunting can be for BIG deer.

I got thinking about this recently as it is time to put in for tag draws, and I was working with my consultant at TAGS that handles all of my applications throughout the country. I made SURE to have him get me in the draw for South Dakota because I hope to hunt there this November.

The western part of the state takes a draw for a rifle permit that is good for either mule deer or whitetails, and it’s about a 50-60% success rate with 0 points, and generally 100% with 1 point. I apply all over, so I have just come to rely on my TAGS consultant to take care of all of them now. I just can’t keep them straight, and I don’t want to have thousands of dollars out on drawings, and TAGS will float those fees for me (see sidebar below).

The last time I drew a SoDak permit, I headed out in search of a big muley buck, but if I found a giant whitetail, I wasn’t closing the door on that option, either. There are some giant whitetails in those river-bottoms, and you never know when you’ll run into one, especially as these hunts happen during the rut when mature bucks are on their feet during daylight hours.

I was paired up to hunt with a guy from Colorado, Casey Mendenhall, who I didn’t know at the time, but we’ve become friends since. Casey was looking for a whitetail, and I was after a muley, so it worked well.

Cold and snow proved good for hunting.

The first morning dawned with more than a foot of snow, high winds, and bitter cold temperatures. On the way to the ranch, a doe was chased across the main road in front of us by a great 10-point whitetail. They just happened to hop the fence and end up on the property we could hunt.

We got out of the truck, walked a quarter-mile and then found the buck and doe down in a draw out of the wind. We had to make a couple of moves, but ended up at 150 yards; the deer had no idea we were there. Casey made the shot, the buck went 50 yards, and his hunt was over. Sometimes it can happen fast!

Casey Mendenhall with a great whitetail taken the first morning.

We were all in disbelief as he had a beautiful 150-inch plus buck on the ground about an hour into the hunt. This really opened up the hunt for me because I now basically had 5 days to hunt 1×1 with my guide and long-time friend Tom McReynolds.

Conditions stayed bitterly cold, but on the first day a guy in camp took a heavy 194-inch muley (below). On day two, another hunter took a 32-inch-wide muley that scored in the 180s. This is a hunt where you don’t see hundreds of deer a day, but you have a great chance to find a monster at any time.

Skeet Simmons with a 194-inch South Dakota trophy muley from day one.

The first three days, I saw a number of bucks, and a few were mature, but I was looking for a really big one or nothing, and that is not my norm. On day four, we went to a different ranch, and the owner told us he had been seeing a 160-class, clean 4×4 whitetail fairly regularly, so we took the morning and looked around for him. We saw a few whitetails and a number of muleys, but nothing big.

With wind-chill it was minus 22 degrees, so we came back to the ranch house to warm up and have some lunch. About 1 p.m. we headed back out, and positioned ourselves on a ridge looking down a very long canyon with lots of draws feeding into it. We could see a lot of country, and we decided we’d spend a couple of hours there, but it wasn’t to be.

Not 5 minutes after we began glassing, Tom said, “Good buck! He just came over the far ridge and he is headed this way.” We got my Nikon EDG spotting scope on him, and he was one of those muley bucks that took no discussion. He had huge tines all around, and we immediately tried to form a plan to cut him off.

We bailed over the hill into a draw and fought through thigh-deep snow drifts for a long way. We stayed behind a small point and also used some small patches of pines to stay hidden, and we eventually crawled out to where we could see the main canyon. The buck popped out across from us about 400 yards away, and he was heading parallel to our position, but he was angling just a bit closer.

I got on my BogPod, ranged an area where I thought the buck would end up the closest to us, then I settled in for the possible 325-yard shot. It took a few minutes for him to get there, and I was going numb all over due to the cold, but when he paused broadside, I touched off the .300 Win, and the buck dropped and slid down the hill on the fresh snow into a small patch of trees.

When we got to him, I was in awe. The magnificent buck was incredible, with deep front and back forks, and a couple of kickers. I’m not a big tape measurer guy, but Tom scored him that night at 197 5/8” – a buck of a lifetime for sure.

The author with his monster muley from South Dakota.

Hopefully I will draw that tag this spring, and I will be right back in western SD in November. It is one of my favorite places in North America to pursue deer, and I know at any moment during a hunt, a tremendous buck can step out and offer an opportunity. This state is a seriously overlooked hotspot for both trophy mule deer and whitetails.

Sidebar: WTA TAGS – Tag Application Service

WTA TAGS is the only full-service licensing program available to today’s sportsmen. Bottom line – TAGS helps sportsmen draw the very best, limited-entry, big-game tags in the country. TAGS offers professional consultation on where to apply and then properly fills out and submits your applications to the state. TAGS also floats the necessary tag fees on your behalf. TAGS has the easiest, most reliable and most complete service available to assist you in drawing the tag of a lifetime.

When you decide you’d like professional assistance with applying for or building valuable preference/bonus points on the very best big game tags in the country, read the catalog and/or call the TAGS office. The expert licensing team of WTA TAGS will then recommend application strategies consistent with your goals. When the staff at TAGS makes state recommendations, they consider your desired trophy quality, physical ability, point status, time constraints, desire to hunt guided or unguided, and most recent game management unit data.

Editor’s note: Tim Herald is an owner and hunt consultant at Worldwide Trophy Adventures (WTA). To book this or any other high-quality hunt anywhere in the world, contact Tim at [email protected]. WTA’s services are free; WTA is paid directly by the outfitter, and your hunt cost is the same whether you book directly with an outfitter or through WTA.

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