South Dakota Big Game Hunting Laws & Regulations

Big Game Hunting: South Dakota Regulations

Understanding Big Game Licenses

In South Dakota, big game hunting is regulated by specific licenses which include both a tag and a license. The license must be in the hunter's possession at all times during the hunt. It's crucial to note that these licenses are non-transferable and limit the number of big game animals a hunter can take. Violating these limits or hunting unauthorized animals can lead to severe penalties.

Additional Hunting Privileges with Big Game License

Holders of a big game license can use the top portion of their license for hunting various small game species until January 31, 2023. This includes prairie dogs, coyotes, and several other species. However, once a hunter has filled their big game tag(s), they can only accompany their group and participate in hunting the allowed smaller species.

Definitions of Legal Game

Understanding the definitions of legal game under the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks regulations is crucial:

  • “Any Deer”: This includes all whitetail and mule deer, regardless of sex or age.
  • “Antlerless”: Refers to deer or elk of either sex that do not display visible antlers.
  • “Doe/fawn”: Specifically for antelope, this category includes individuals without horns or with horns shorter than three inches.
  • “Any Turkey”: Encompasses all wild turkeys, irrespective of sex.
  • “Male Turkey”: Identified by visible beard or spurs.
  • “Hen Turkey”: Lacks a visible beard or spurs.
  • “Firearm Big Game License”: Permits the use of firearms, including muzzleloading firearms, for hunting big game.

Essential Tagging Procedures

When hunting big game in South Dakota, it's imperative to understand and adhere to the specific tagging and transportation rules:

  1. Immediate Tagging: Upon taking a big game animal and before any transportation or storage, the hunter must sign, date, and securely attach the provided tag to the animal. This applies when the animal is brought to any road, camp, residence, or vehicle.

  2. Tag Placement: The tag must be attached as follows:

    • Mountain Lion or Turkey: Around one leg.
    • Hoofed Big Game Animals: Around one hind leg between the hoof and ankle joint, around the hock tendon above the ankle joint, or at the base of the antler or horn.

Transportation and Possession Rules

Understanding the legal requirements for transporting and possessing big game is crucial:

  1. Field Possession: No one can possess or transport a big game animal (excluding turkey) unless it has the proper tag and either the head or a hind quarter with visible sex organs naturally attached.
  2. Exemptions for Certain Licenses: Licensees of "any deer," "any elk," or "any antelope" may transport the animal with the tagged leg without the need for the head or hind quarter with attached sex organs.
  3. Transporting from Domicile: If transporting big game parts (including boned meat) from a domicile, the hunter must possess the game tag or license. Cooked or cured game (excluding freezing) for personal consumption is exempt from these regulations.
  4. Third-Party Transportation: If someone other than the licensee is transporting big game parts, they must have the tagged leg or a transportation permit with them.
  5. Special Case for Wild Turkeys: Unless processed at a wildlife facility (with a receipt) or at the domicile, transported turkeys must include the leg and foot bearing the tag. Licensees of "any turkey" are exempt from transporting the beard.
  6. Taxidermy Transport: When transporting big game parts to a taxidermist, the parts must be accompanied by either the tagged leg or proper documentation.

Compliance with Other Jurisdictions

  1. Interstate and Tribal Game: Big game taken in other states or under a Tribal license must comply with tagging regulations when transported within South Dakota. In the absence of a tag, proof of lawful capture is required.

Regulations for Accompanying a General Big Game Licensee

In South Dakota, the rules for nonlicensees or companions of big game hunters are specific and designed to ensure safety and compliance:

  1. Requirement for Accompanying Persons: Anyone accompanying a big game hunter (using a firearm or bow and arrow) in the field must have a valid big game license for the same geographic area and time period. Exceptions to this rule include:
    • Lawfully Carrying a Pistol: Individuals legally carrying a pistol are exempt from this requirement.
    • Small Game Hunters: Those licensed for small game hunting, or exempt from licensing, using shotshells in a shotgun, are allowed to accompany big game hunters. However, the use of dogs by small game hunters is prohibited when accompanying big game hunters.

Regulations for Archery-Only Big Game Licensees

Archery-only license holders have particular regulations regarding firearm possession:

  1. Firearm Possession Restrictions: Those with an archery-only big game license are generally prohibited from possessing a firearm while hunting, except in two cases:
    • Possessing a Firearms Big Game License: If they also have a valid firearms big game license for the same area and time.
    • Lawfully Carrying a Pistol: This is permitted even for archery-only hunters.

Juvenile Hunters

Special rules apply to juvenile hunters to ensure their safety and legal compliance:

  1. Adult Accompaniment Requirement: Juveniles under 16 years old must hunt under the supervision of a responsible adult, who can be a parent, guardian, or another designated adult.
  2. Firearm Possession by Accompanying Adult: The adult accompanying a juvenile can carry a firearm only if:
    • Lawfully Carrying a Pistol: The adult is legally carrying a pistol.
    • Possessing a Firearm Big Game License: The adult holds a valid firearm big game license for the same geographic area and time as the juvenile.

General Restrictions on Firearms

South Dakota enforces specific regulations on the types of firearms permissible for hunting big game:

  1. Capacity Limitations: Firearms that are self-loading or auto-loading and hold more than six cartridges are prohibited for hunting big game.
  2. Prohibition of Fully Automatic Firearms: Any firearm capable of operating as a full automatic is not allowed for hunting both big and small game.
  3. Shotgun Specifications: For shotguns using a single ball or rifled slug, it must weigh at least half an ounce. The use of buckshot is strictly prohibited.

Specific Regulations by Game Type

Deer and Antelope

  • Firearm Requirements: Shoulder-held firearms must produce at least 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Handguns should produce a minimum of 500 foot-pounds of energy.
  • Ammunition: Only soft-point or expanding bullets are allowed.


  • Minimum Energy and Caliber: Firearms used must generate no less than 1,700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and must be .243 caliber or larger.
  • Ammunition: Only soft point or expanding bullets are permitted.


  • Firearm and Ammunition Requirements: Shoulder-held firearms must produce at least 700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, while handguns should produce at least 500 foot-pounds. Muzzleloading firearms of at least .44 caliber and muzzleloading shotguns are also allowed.

Muzzleloading Firearms Regulations

  • Scope Restrictions: Telescopic sights, which utilize magnification, are prohibited in muzzleloading-only seasons.
  • Caliber Requirements: Muzzleloading rifles must discharge a projectile of at least .44 caliber, and muzzleloading handguns must be .50 caliber or larger.
  • Crossbow Use: During firearm seasons, hunters with a valid big game license may use crossbows as an alternative. Crossbows must have a minimum pull of 120 pounds and be equipped with a mechanical safety and telescopic sights.

Archery Equipment

A person hunting with bow and arrow may not use or possess any of the following:

  • Explosive, poisonous, hydraulic or pneumatic points;
  • Crossbows and draw-lock devices that hold the bow at partial or full draw except for individuals who qualify and possess a valid crossbow/draw-lock permit;
  • Arrow rests that have more than three inches of continuous contact with the arrow;
  • Electronic devices mounted to the bow that aid in the taking of game. However, cameras, video cameras, cell phones used exclusively for photographic purposes, lighted sight pins and illuminated arrow nocks may be used;
  • Electronic arrow or electronic string releases;
  • Telescopic sights;
  • An arrow without a broadhead (fixed or mechanical) that has at least two metal cutting edges when hunting a big game animal, except blunt points may be possessed and used when hunting a turkey. Both field points and blunt points may be possessed and used when hunting small game or at any time when possessed and used as practice arrows;
  • A bow that measures less than 40 pounds pull when hunting elk or less than 30 pounds when hunting big game other than elk.

General Restrictions

  • No one may hunt big game on interstate highways or controlled access facilities.
  • No one may discharge a firearm, muzzleloader, crossbow or bow and arrow at any big game animal (except turkey) from within the right-of-way of an improved public highway. Turkeys can be taken within the right-of-way with a shotgun using shot shells or with bow and arrow.
  • No one may hunt big game, except turkey as described above, on a section line or other highway if the right-of-way has been commonly used by the public for vehicular travel as demonstrated by the existence of a well-worn trail or if an intentional alteration has been made to the right-of-way to enhance the natural terrain’s utility for vehicular travel or to permit vehicular travel where it was not previously possible.
  • No one may establish, utilize, or maintain a bait station from Aug 1 - Feb 1, inclusive, and from March 15 - May 31, inclusive, to attract any big game animal (including turkey). A bait station is a location where grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay, minerals

    (including salt) or any other natural food materials, commercial products containing natural food materials or by-products of such materials are placed or maintained as an attractant to big game animals for the purpose of hunting. The use of scents alone does not constitute a bait station. The bait station restriction does not apply to foods that have not been placed or gathered by an individual and result from normal environmental conditions or accepted farming, forest management, wildlife food plantings, orchard management or similar land management activities. Individuals are exempt from the bait station requirements while participating in depredation management activities directed by GFP.

  • No person may establish, utilize, or maintain a bait station, as defined above, on lands owned by the department and on properties managed and classified by the department as Game Production Areas, State Parks, State Recreation Areas, State Lakeside Use Areas, State Nature Areas and State Water Access Areas.
  • No one may use a dog or electronic call when hunting big game (including turkey); however electronic calls are allowed for mountain lion hunting. The use of dogs to hunt mountain lions is only allowed by permit during those specified hunting intervals in Custer State Park that allow the use of dogs and year-round outside of the Black Hills Fire Protection District on private land with permission of the landowner or lessee. Additionally, leashed dogs may be used to track and retrieve wounded big game animals.
  • During the time from sunset and sunrise, no person may use or possess night-vision equipment or throw or cast the rays of a spotlight, motor vehicle headlight, or other artificial light onto a highway, or into any field, pasture, woodland, forest, or prairie, for the purpose of spotting, locating, taking, attempting to take, or hunting any animal, if the person is in possession or control of a firearm, bow, or other implement by which an animal could be killed. However a person may use a handheld light, while the person is on foot, to take raccoons after the raccoons have been treed by dogs, or to engage in trapping activity and to take trapped fur-bearing animals; a landowner and up to two guests accompanying the person may use an artificial light and night vision equipment on the person’s land, to take jackrabbits, coyotes, beaver during its hunting season, foxes, raccoons, opossums, badgers, skunks, and rodents, provided they use shotgun and shotshells; or a firearm and a cartridge having a bullet diameter of less than .225 inches; a landowner who is at least 18 may grant permission for up to two guests to hunt unaccompanied on that person’s land for jackrabbits, coyotes, beaver during its hunting season, foxes, raccoons, opossums, badgers, skunks, and rodents, and such guests may use night vision equipment, provided they use a shotgun and shot shell or a firearm and a cartridge having a bullet diameter of less than .225 inches.
  • No one may possess a loaded firearm while intoxicated.
  • No one may wantonly waste game, destroy a big game animal not in season or destroy a big game animal in season and not tag and claim the animal.
  • No one may sell or barter big game, except the head, hide and antlers.
  • No one may recklessly discharge a firearm or bow.
  • No one may hunt within any federal refuge, national park or monument or state game refuge unless specific seasons have been established for these areas. (See also Land Restrictions section below.)
  • No one may use or possess firearms in the Fort Meade Recreation Area, South Unit, and the signed portion of the North Unit.

Motor Vehicle Restrictions

A motor vehicle is any self-propelled vehicle or any vehicle propelled or drawn by a self-propelled vehicle. This includes snowmobiles, motorcycles and off-road vehicles (ATV/UTV).

  • No one may use a motor vehicle to chase, harass, intercept, pursue or disturb big game.
  • No one may send or receive a message by cellular telephone or other electronic form of communications while in or on a motor vehicle for the purpose of hunting big game.
  • No one who is in or on a motor vehicle, except hunters with Disabled Hunter permits, may discharge a firearm or bow at any wild animal, except coyotes, jackrabbits, rodents, skunks, badgers, raccoons and foxes.
  • No one may allow a firearm to protrude from a motor vehicle or a conveyance attached to it while the vehicle is on a public highway. However, a firearm may protrude from a stationary vehicle when shooting at coyotes, jackrabbits, rodents, skunks, badgers, raccoons and foxes.
  • No person may chase, drive, harass, kill, or attempt to kill any game animal or game bird with or from a snowmobile, except coyotes may be taken by a landowner or lessee on the landowner’s property by shooting from stationary snowmobiles through the use of firearms if the operator of the snowmobile is at least 18 years of age. Not more than one person may be aboard the snowmobile while coyotes are being hunted or taken pursuant to this provision.
  • No one may operate motorized vehicles on lands owned, leased or controlled by GFP, except on designated motor vehicle roads and parking areas; federal Waterfowl Production Areas, except designated parking areas; or private land without permission from the owner or lessee of the land.
  • Hunters planning to use U.S. Forest Service or National Grassland public lands should contact the Forest Service or Grasslands office for details on travel restrictions.
  • No person may kill or attempt to kill any wild bird or animal from an aircraft, except those who are lawfully permitted. No person may use an aircraft for the purpose of hunting, taking, concentrating, driving, rallying, stirring up, locating, or spotting any wild bird or animal, except a person who uses a drone for the purpose of locating or spotting a predator or varmint, provided: (1) The activity occurs only on or over land that is privately owned; (2) The person operating the drone is the landowner or has permission from the landowner or a lessee; and (3) The activity does not occur during the months of September, October, or November.
  • No person may make use of, hunt, or shoot from any motorized boat, except when it is beached, resting at anchor, or fastened/tied immediately alongside any type of fixed hunting blind or natural cover, or is used solely as a means of picking up downed game.
  • No person may use a motor vehicle for the purposes of hunting, fishing or trapping on any land under the control of the Commissioner of School and Public Lands, except for roads, trails or parking areas designated and signed by the GFP.

Trespass Regulations

Understanding trespass laws is crucial for hunters in South Dakota:

  1. Private Land: Hunting or retrieving big game from private land without the owner's or lessee's permission is illegal, except in the Black Hills Fire Protection District.
  2. Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District: Here, hunters cannot enter private land to hunt if it's posted or if entry has been denied by the owner or lessee. This district's boundaries are defined as starting from the WY-SD state line along I-90, including Rapid City, and covering specified highways and rivers.
  3. Penalties for Trespass: Conviction of trespass results in a one-year revocation of hunting privileges for the first offense and two years for subsequent offenses within ten years.

Trail Cameras

Regulations for trail cameras on public lands include:

  1. Attachment: Limited to one nail, bolt, or screw.
  2. Identification: Owner's name, address, or current big game license number must be displayed on the camera.

Tree Stands, Ground Blinds, and Elevated Platforms

Regulations for these devices include:

  1. Prohibitions: Permanent stands and climbing devices are not allowed on certain lands.
  2. Permissible Use: Portable stands and blinds are allowed from August 1 to March 31, with certain attachment restrictions and mandatory identification.
  3. National Wildlife Refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas: Additional restrictions apply, including prohibition on nails, wires, screws, bolts, or screw-in steps.

Tribal Land

State licenses are valid on private, deeded lands within Indian reservations, but hunters should consult with tribal offices before hunting.

Weapons Restrictions in State Parks and Recreation Areas

Various restrictions apply based on location, season, and type of game:

  1. General Prohibition: Uncased firearms, crossbows, and bows are generally prohibited.
  2. Exceptions: These include designated ranges, special hunting seasons in Custer State Park, and specific timeframes in certain areas.
  3. Specific Area Restrictions: Different rules apply for areas like Big Sioux State Recreation Area, Newton Hills State Park, and others, with particular focus on the type of weapons allowed.

Weapons Restrictions on Other State-Owned Lands

There are specific areas where uncased firearms are prohibited or restricted to certain types of hunting.

Horses on State-Owned Lands

Restrictions include:

  1. General Rule: Horses are not allowed except on designated trails or areas.
  2. Exceptions: During deer season in specific areas and for licensed deer or elk hunters or assistants in designated areas.

Guiding on Public Lands

  1. Prohibition: Hunting guides are generally not allowed to guide on state-owned or managed lands, with specific exceptions.
  2. Definition and Exceptions: A hunting guide is defined for these purposes, and exceptions are noted for guiding on adjacent road right-of-ways.

Shooting Hours

Understanding the designated shooting hours is essential:

  1. Archery and Firearm: For big game (excluding turkey), shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
  2. Turkey: Shooting hours are restricted from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Fluorescent Orange Clothing Requirements

Wearing fluorescent orange is a safety requirement:

  1. General Rule: Big game hunters (excluding turkey and mountain lion) using firearms must wear fluorescent orange.
  2. Specific Garments: This includes hats, shirts, vests, jackets, coats, or sweaters.
  3. National Wildlife Refuges: At Sand Lake and Waubay, hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of solid (not camouflage) fluorescent orange on head, chest, and back.

Inspection Regulations

Law enforcement has the authority to inspect hunting equipment and game:

  1. Inspection Right: Any motor vehicle, camper, or trailer may be stopped for inspection by any uniformed law enforcement officer.
  2. Obligation to Comply: Hunters cannot refuse inspection and count of game.

Federal Lacy Act

This act prohibits the transport or shipment of unlawfully taken wildlife to other states.

Harassment of Hunters

Interfering with lawful hunting activities is illegal:

  1. Prohibited Actions: Intentional interference with lawful hunting or any action specifically designed to harass or prevent lawful hunting.
  2. Disturbance of Game: Engaging in activities to scare or disturb game with the intent to prevent its lawful taking is also prohibited.

Penalties for Violations

Violations carry serious consequences:

  1. Criminal Penalties: Most big game regulation violations are class 1 misdemeanors, leading to fines, imprisonment, and loss of hunting privileges for one year.
  2. Civil Damages: Illegal taking or killing of big game can result in substantial civil damages, varying by the type and trophy status of the animal.
  3. Preference Points Loss: Convictions for taking trophy big game animals may result in the loss of accrued preference points.

Reporting Violations

The public plays a role in wildlife law enforcement:

  1. How to Report: Violations can be reported via the Turn In Poachers (TIPs) Hotline or to local Conservation Officers.
  2. Information to Provide: Include details like date, time, nature of the violation, location, violator’s name and description, vehicle description, and license plate number.
  3. Anonymity and Rewards: The TIPs program allows for anonymous reporting and offers rewards for information leading to arrests.
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The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.