Turkey Hunting in South Dakota

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  • B
  • 50,000

    Wild Turkey Population

  • Merriam's, Rio Grandes, Easterns; some Hybrids

    Turkey Subspecies

  • 16,000

    Number of Licenses Sold Annually

  • $20-$25 (varies by unit)

    Big-game license is "all-in-one" form. Lower portion is the tag.

    Cost of Resident License and Permit

  • $85-$100 (varies by unit)

    Big-game license is "all-in-one" form. Lower portion is the tag.

    Cost of Non-Resident License and Permit

A turkey hunting paradise . . . if you're in the right spot. It can be frustrating otherwise.

Fortunately, the hardcore turkey hunter who perseveres will find good opportunities here.

South Dakota turkey hunting takes place in one of two regions. You have the famous Black Hills to the west, which cover over 2.3 million acres, three-quarters of which is public (mostly U.S. Forest Service land), and open for hunting.

Will you have competition? Maybe.

Basically, in the Black Hills, if it isn't posted, it's open for hunting. Of course this makes the area somewhat popular too, but there's room to roam if you're willing to work.

The other spring turkey hunting game in South Dakota is the prairie. These units are all lottery draw, with recent applications due mid-January through late-February.

In my experience turkey hunting both South Dakota, and neighboring Wyoming, flying into Rapid City is your gateway to both locations (and another nearby state).

It's tough for non-residents, but you can eventually pull a license (check "leftover licenses" availability). Give the Black Hills an “A” if for no other reason than it's almost wide open for hunting with plenty of turkeys; score the prairie a “C” because of limited public hunting land (but also plenty of turkeys), and South Dakota gets a “B” grade.

The secret to hunting success in the Black Hills is simple: Get away from the roads and two-tracks, and hike in at least a mile into roadless areas. If you're not willing to walk and get away from the easy-to-hunt spots, don't bother hunting the Black Hills.

But there is turkey treasure there if you give yourself a few days for scouting and use your legs. The Black Hills are beautiful, with ponderosa pine, Black Hills spruce, quaking aspen and bur oak forests, interspersed with green meadows.

The prairie hunting is superb if you can get the tag and gain access. There are often unbelievable bird densities in prime river-bottom and river-break habitat.

In truth, some areas look a bit like the surface of the moon, or how I imagine it, with recognizable greened-up roosting cover standing out among the rocky terrain.

Turkey Hunting in South Dakota © John Hafner photo

Fun Fact: Wild turkeys are not native to the Black Hills. The white-tipped Merriam's turkeys, for which the area is so well-known, were introduced from New Mexico in 1948 (eight birds), 1950 (15 birds) and 1951 (six birds). The rest is turkey-restoration history. 

– Steve Hickoff

Turkey Hunting in South Dakota

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