The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe occupies a 1.6M-acre reservation straddling the North Dakota/South Dakota border. Sitting Bull, the Sioux leader at the Battle of Little Bighorn, was from this tribe and returned to the Standing Rock Reservation, where he was killed in 1890. Things have changed since then, but one thing hasn’t. There’s still plenty of game roaming these wide-open spaces, and this is a good spot for an affordable hunt.
Whitetail and Mule Deer
Whitetail deer and mule deer co-exist on the reservation and licenses are good for either species. Whitetails are more numerous and these are the big mid-western whitetails. Deer move between agricultural fields and what little cover is available on the prairies. While the prairie may look flat at a distance, there are lots of dips and coulees that can hide a herd of deer. Bring good binoculars and look for moving deer at daylight and in the evenings.
Nonresident, non-member rifle tags are limited to 500 and most are sold via the internet on a first-come, first-served basis starting in early March. A small number of tags are held for walk-in purchase in Ft. Yates. Instructions for purchasing licenses are available on the Standing Rock Game and Fish website (gameandfish.standingrock.org). Nonresident, non-member deer tags cost $475. Rifle deer season is mid-October to mid-December so you can time your hunt to coincide with the rut. I hunted the reservation in 2007 during the first week in November and found some bucks with does, but the peak of the rut appeared to be a week or two away. Still, I took my best-ever whitetail on tribal land on the north end of the reservation.
Archery deer tags are also available, and also cost $475. The archery season runs mid-September to the end of December, so you can certainly plan around other seasons. Expect to hunt whitetails in river bottom habitat or around bedding areas on the prairie.
Mule deer are a little harder to find, but some very good bucks are taken here. This is one of the few places you can hunt the mule deer rut, and timing the rut (also mid-November) would be important to finding the bucks, which are otherwise nocturnal. I’d concentrate on the prairie north of Mobridge, SD and plan on a lot of glassing in the heads of drainages for bedded bucks.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) hit the reservation and quite a bit of North Dakota in 2011 with an additional minor outbreak in 2013. The disease primarily kills mature deer rather than fawns so in 2015 you can expect lots of three- to four-year-old bucks, but fewer six- and seven-year-old deer, which would have been mature deer in 2011. Mule deer can certainly get EHD, but we seldom see the severity of mortality that we see in whitetails, and I don’t expect major impacts to mule deer on the reservation for 2015.
The tribe offers a few pronghorn licenses to non-members as well as an interesting pronghorn/deer combo license that includes guiding (a total of 10 combo licenses were offered in 2014). Pronghorn-only licenses are $425 and the combo hunt is $1,750. Pronghorn populations fluctuate due to winterkill, and this area suffered during the winter of 2010-11. Populations have recovered some, so a number of three- and four-year-old bucks should be available in 2015. Dates for the combo hunt should be late-September to the first week in October. Dates for archery pronghorn run from early August to mid-October, while rifle pronghorn hunts are in late September during the rut. Don’t expect B&C pronghorn here, but hunting them on the open prairie as Theodore Roosevelt saw it has a certain amount of charm.
While the tribal website has links for bison hunts, the tribe is not advertising any hunts this year. They suggest you contact Mike Lawrence at the G&F Office (701-854-7236) if you’re interested in a bison hunt on Standing Rock.
The reservation also offers great waterfowl and upland hunting (think pheasants), which can be an excellent diversion in the middle of the day, and guided fishing can be found on Lake Oahe at Mobridge. Prairie dog licenses are also available and a summer prairie dog shoot would be a great way to scout your hunting area in advance.
Guided or Unguided?
Guides are not required for non-members, but several guides are approved by the tribe. A list of guides is available on the website. In addition to the benefit of local knowledge, a tribal guide will know the reservation land status. While the tribe extends its authority to all wildlife within the boundaries of the reservation, significant inholdings of fee-title land exist, and both North and South Dakota extend their State jurisdiction over non-Indians on fee-title land. If you are hunting on a tribal license, you should hunt only on tribal-owned land to prevent violating a state jurisdiction issue. A tribal guide can also smooth out relationships with tribal ranchers and others using the same land. Because this is tribal land, you can expect to run into other hunters while you’re out there.
If you decide to hunt on your own, get good land status maps for the state you intend to hunt. County land maps may also be available for particular areas of the reservation. Or, HuntMap.com provides topographic maps with all the information you need. They can be ordered by emailing Rachel@huntingreport.com or by calling 305-253-5301.
You can find accommodations for your hunt at the Prairie Knights Casino and Lodge in Cannonball, ND (on the north end) or at the Grand River Casino and Resort in Mobridge, SD (on the south end). Meals at the casinos are good and very affordable. Additional accommodations can also be found in McLaughlin and Bullhead, SD, and in Shields, ND.