SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Large deer herds are nothing new in South Dakota, but one herd is grabbing drivers’ attention in the northern part of the state.
One KELOLAND viewer in McPherson County sent KELOLAND News video of deer crossing SD Highway 47 north of Eureka. You can see the video of a few deer crossing the snowy road in the video above.
In the winter time, deer herds of more than 100 are not uncommon, a regional wildlife supervisor with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department told KELOLAND News.
Jacquie Ermer, who is based out of a GFP office in Webster, said whitetail deer form social groups up to or more than 100.
“Come spring/summer they really spread back out again,” Ermer told KELOLAND News. “We’ll see those concentrations in the winter.”
In the video, dozens and dozens of deer can be seen from the highway and the large herd size is not different from large herds spotted in Marshall County in 2019 and Miner/Sanborn County in 2020.
Ermer said the deer start working together to find food and cover which can be more limited in the winter.
When there’s a lot of snow cover, deer can also be more easily spotted. Ermer said it may seem like there’s more deer when they are easier to see from long distances with fresh snow.
“They’re definitely highly visible,” Ermer said. “We’re fortunate to live in a state that has wildlife populations and we definitely focus on our efforts and resources on working with both landowners and hunters to maintain them at an optimal level.”
Damage by deer
Large deer herds searching for limited food can start to cause issues for landowners. A 2020 wildlife damage management report by the GFP said there were 245 requests for assistance with deer damage to stored feed supplies and growing crops in 2020.
Ermer said the harsher the winter conditions get, the more calls about deer causing feed issues for cattle producers.
“We probably have about two dozen calls that came over Christmas,” Ermer said. “We have a really good program, our wildlife damage program, where we can assist these folks if deer are coming into their haystacks.”
Ermer said permanent stack yards can be built to keep deer out of hay as well as temporary panels that can be moved.
“Not every not every situation is the same,” Ermer said. “We use a variety of tools and services. Our staff go out and kind of assess the situation and see what’s going on.”
Ermer said GFP officials have worked in some farm areas in her region for multiple years dealing with deer damage.
Deer hunting key to population management
The top deer management program by the GFP is South Dakota’s deer hunting season.
For more than 20 years, part of the deer hunting license fee charged by the GFP has gone into the wildlife damage management program, Ermer said.
“Hunters are not only going out and harvesting the animals, but by purchasing a hunting license those fees then go towards helping with these programs,” Ermer said. “That usually brings in about a million dollars annually.”
In 2021, the GFP reported 115,102 resident and nonresident deer hunting licenses for a total of 132,703 deer tags. The projected deer harvest was 55,142 in 2021, down nearly 4,000 from 2020. The record deer harvest in South Dakota was 95,000 deer in 2010.
Wildlife experts say deer population across South Dakota is above 400,000 and population levels are most affected by landowner tolerances, habitat availability, harvest rates, winter severity, drought, disease and predation.