In South Dakota, they often call it ‘puddle ducks’ since places like South Dakota aren’t as loaded with water as Louisiana and some of the coastal states. Duck hunting in general has fallen significantly throughout the state, with only 11,295 duck hunters in 2019 compared to more than twice that number ten years prior.
That’s not to say that South Dakota is a bad state for duck hunting. But it is one of those states where dedicated duck hunters need to know their business, such as where to go. Fortunately, South Dakota duck hunting is growing again.
South Dakota is a large state, and there are a lot of areas that are prime spots for quality duck hunting, and you will find all of the variety of ducks you would find in states where the migratory duck population is far denser.
South Dakota Duck Hunting
Despite being a northern, mid-western state, duck season start and end dates in South Dakota are similar to that of most southern states. Also, like most states, South Dakota is divided into a few territories where the open and close dates are a little different.
Youth-only dates last a single day, usually in mid-September. A single day is set aside that isn’t a part of the regular season duck hunting dates. According to the South Dakota Games, Fish, and Parks Commission, it’s the same for the next two years.
If you live in the High Plains territory of South Dakota, duck season starts a little later than everywhere else—usually just after the first week of the month and ending around the second week of January.
Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with those start and stop and start again dates, like in some other states. It’s just one solid run.
Low Plains North
The Low Plains North area gets an earlier start in the final week of September and ends much earlier, in the first week of December.
Low Plains Middle
South Dakota should just combine the North and the Middle Plains each year because they have the same exact dates in most seasons. This season and next season the Low Plains Middle area of South Dakota starts and ends at the same time as the Low Plains North.
Low Plains South
The Low Plains South is close to the High Plains, kicking things off in mid to late October and pushing through to the second week of January.
Where to Hunt
This is key in South Dakota since duck hunting is much rarer than in states like Louisiana and nowhere near as dense in terms of population. Fortunately, there are some excellent spots to check out in South Dakota.
Rock Creek Ranch is one such spot, and it’s considered to be one of the best hunting spots in South Dakota and the surrounding states. Of course, it’s a guided hunt area, so be prepared to fork over some serious dough.
In South Dakota, 80% of the land is privately owned. What’s left includes roughly 1,000 WMAs, with no specific one standing out as a duck-hunting paradise. However, if you can jump into some private land hunts, anywhere near the Missouri River is gold.
What Ducks can you Shoot?
Since ducks are migratory birds, South Dakota gets the same kind of ducks that everywhere else does. However, on South Dakota’s Game, Fish, and Parks page, there are only a few listed.
These include mallards, scaup, wood ducks, redheads, pintails, canvasbacks, blue-winged teal, and coots. Of that group, pintails, scaup, and blue-winged teals are the ones South Dakota focuses on the most, in terms of protecting them from overhunting.
The bag limits for duck hunting in South Dakota are pretty traditional across the other states. You won’t find anything overly surprising. South Dakota has a daily limit and a possession amount that’s three times that limit.
- Mallards – no more than 5 and no more than 2 hens are allowed
- Scaup – Only one scaup per day, with possession of 3
- Wood Ducks – Limited to 3 per day
- Redheads – no more than 2 per day
- Pintails – Only 1 allowed per day, with a possession total of 3
- Canvasbacks – Limited to 2 per day
- Blue-winged teal – No more than 2 for the entire season
- Coots – hunters can bag 15 per day with possession of 45
South Dakota is never going to be known as a haven for floods of ducks during the migratory season. However, you can find some good duck hunting spots on private lands, and the WMAs spread throughout the state.
The most important thing to know, assuming you are new to duck hunting, is that the best spots are almost always near water. Those who hunt ducks close to the Missouri River have a lot of success.
The rest just depends on which territory you are in. South Dakota offers a decent amount of time throughout the duck season. So, if you know your business, you shouldn’t have much problem bringing home your bag limit each season.
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After reading Thomas’s report on SD duck hunting, I was a bit torn. He does a good job of the basics regarding season lengths and bag limits etc. He also reports on the declining number of in state hunters. As a lifelong resident I know this is true.
The state has held on to a lottery for non residents that has let limited numbers of outsiders in to hunt waterfowl since approx 1972. Prior to that year no non-residents were not allowed to hunt migratory waterfowl, period. SD produces millions of ducks primarily from two heavily glaciated areas ; one in the northeast and the other in the west-central area east of the Missouri River. Not only does SD produce ducks from these prairie potholes, but most years will also hold huge numbers of northern ducks produced in Canada and ND. I have hunted both ND and prairie Canada, many times, but truthfully the greatest duck mornings I have had in my life occurred in November in SD. Since the 1970’s, I have seen more hunts than I can count when I collected limits of 3, 4, or 5 mallards (depending on the regulations) in 10 minutes or less of legal shooting times. These hunts have occurred in either wetlands or picked grain fields. There have been years when late season weather has trapped as much as 12 to 15% of the central flyway’s mallards population the eastern part of the state. The low duck hunter numbers have always been a function of the states large pheasant population which in most years sees a kill that ranges from 1 to 2 million birds. It is a huge booster of the states economy and opening day takes on a holiday feel across the state. By contrast, waterfowl hunting has been either a sideshow for pheasant hunters ie; a type of “bonus” activity only. Until the state allows more duck hunters to enter, the popularity will likely remain rather low. For folks like me, the treasure of NA continental waterfowl that flood through our state each fall will continue to be a luxury that those who remain uninvited can only dream of. Truth is ,only a relatively few non-residents and even fewer outdoor writers know of what I speak. But even with states low participation rate, I would put opening day (for locally raised ducks) and the month of November (for northern arrivals) hunting up against prairie Canada or ND duck hunting in a skinny second. After all, the ducks really don’t care about such trivia.