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Deer Hunting On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Part 1

November 28, 2011.

A few years back, I got this weird bug about wanting to kill a mule deer with my rifle in North Dakota. The thing is, North Dakota doesn't issue rifle mule deer tags to non-residents. This irked me for some reason, and I started trying to figure out some kind of back door that would let me achieve my somewhat arbitrary goal.

I started by looking for some kind of opportunity to buy a landowner tag or raffle tag. That didn't pan out, but I pretty quickly found what I was looking for. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe offered rifle tags to non-tribal members — and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddled both North and South Dakota.

Online information on Standing Rock hunting is pretty limited, but I did manage to make contact with a few guys who helped me understand the nature of the hunting opportunity.

Tags are offered first-come first-served, and if you're on the ball, they're not too hard to get.

Most of the reservation lies in South Dakota, as does most of the hunting opportunity. 30% of the deer harvested are mulies, 70% are whitetails.

So, honestly, it sounded more like a South Dakota whitetail opportunity than a North Dakota mule deer opportunity. But, it was the only way I saw of acheiving my goal of bagging a NoDak mulie with a rifle.

I missed the window of opportunity to get a tag for the 2010 season, so made double sure I got one for 2011.

What I didn't quite expect was that I also drew a deer tag on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, just to the south of the Standing Rock.

My original plan of a leisurely hunt to learn the Standing Rock and find a North Dakota mulie evolved into a more hectic 2-tag trip — I now needed to learn 2 new areas and bag 2 deer in the course of the week that I had budgeted for this trip.

Good problems to have.

All reservations are different, and it took me a while to get the hang of the way these two manage their tribal lands.

Within the boundaries of the Standing Rock reservation, you'll find a mix of tribal lands and private lands. The license issued by the tribe allows you to hunt tribal land; to hunt the private lands within the reservation boundaries, you need both a state-issued tag and permission of the landowner.

The tribe offers a map of their lands online, along with a road map of the reservation. These separate maps are damn hard to use, so I merged them into a single map with some slick Adobe Acrobat moves. I then had the local office supply store print me a copy of the map on 24" x 36" paper. With this, I could tell pretty precisely where tribal lands were.

The drive up from Denver went smoothly, and I arrived in the North Dakota portion of the reservation on thursday afternoon.

Even up there, it was more whitetail country than mulie country. Typical terrain consisted of rolling hills with narrow but thick patches of trees and brush in the bottom of the drainages.

I spent a lot of time in the truck that first afternoon, covering ground and trying to figure out where to start.

I spotted my first buck pretty quickly, an oddly large 3x3 whitetail, bedded less than 100 yards from the road. It would have been an incredibly easy stalk, and that was very briefly tempting, just because I've never killed a whitetail on a bona fide spot-and-stalk hunt.

I kept going, and eventually did find some mulies intermingled with whitetails on some tribal property on the very north end of the reservation. There were two bucks hot on a doe, but neither was big.

I eventually headed to the casino where I'd be staying for a couple days. I am not a Vegas type of guy, and I flat out do not like casinos. But other than an annoying smoky smell, it made a good base camp for me, I admit.

Friday morning I found what looked like some really solid mule deer country, but saw very few deer and no bucks.

By friday afternoon, I was ready to give some of the whitetail country a try. Although I had gone up there looking for a NoDak mulie, I was more than willing to keep an open mind.

Whitetail country on the Standing Rock

Continued in Part 2 ...

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