Turkey Hunting in South Dakota

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  • B
  • 50,000

    Wild Turkey Population

  • Merriam's, Easterns, hybrids

    Turkey Subspecies

  • 16,000

    Number of Licenses Sold Annually

  • Varies (check regulations)

    Cost of Resident License and Permit

  • Varies (check regulations)

    Cost of Non-Resident License and Permit

South Dakota turkey hunting takes place in several 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. And the prairie, where birds roam landscapes with minimally forested habitat, and grasslands.

But the turkeys are there, sure enough.

Wild turkeys, incidentally, are not native to the Black Hills. The Merriam's subspecies, 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. 

Where to Hunt

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.

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).

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, you may have company.

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, spruce, quaking aspen and bur oak forests, interspersed with green meadows.

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

How many birds do South Dakota turkey hunters kill annually? Some 5,795 turkeys were taken during the 2020 season, the most recent data available.

– Steve Hickoff

Turkey Hunting in South Dakota © John Hafner photo

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