Lewis & Clark Whitetails by Mark Kayser
Nearly 200 years ago, an event occurred that some hailed as wisdom. Many touted it as foolery. President Thomas Jefferson purchased a swath of land from France smack in the middle of North America referred to as the Louisiana Purchase. Today we know it was one of the shrewdest investments ever in real estate.
Curious about the acquisition, Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore this new frontier. Within this great expanse of America’s newly acquired interior they discovered a medley of landscapes, various tribes of American Indians and abundant natural resources. Unknowingly and luckily for American sportsmen, they also discovered that Jefferson purchased some of North America’s finest whitetail real estate. Lewis & Clark quickly confirmed this as they trudged northward along the banks of the mighty Missouri River and dined on deer at numerous campsites.
Today’s Missouri River looks very little like the river Lewis and Clark traversed more than 200 years ago. Reservoirs have swallowed up the bottomlands in Montana and the Dakotas, and dredging has changed the channel of the lower Missouri River valley.
South Dakota was one of the Missouri River states chosen for inundation by dams. From the 1940’s through the 60’s Army Corps of Engineers’ workers labored on four massive dams in the state. Upon completion these dams created over 900 square miles of open water and 3,000 miles of shoreline. If you enjoy walleye fishing or water skiing, this sounds great. Unfortunately, they also submerged the majority of native cottonwood bottoms of the Missouri River, destroying critical habitat for wildlife including whitetails.
If we know one thing about whitetails, it’s that they are adaptable. Despite the inundation of their bottomland habitat whitetails continue to thrive today in South Dakota, acclimating to the open country of the surrounding river breaks.
Being a native South Dakotan, I was accustomed to chasing whitetails in open country. In fact I lived in the shadows of the Lewis and Clark trail for nearly two decades tagging dozens of whitetails along the very trail the famous duo trod. Today I’d rather hunt whitetails in the Great Plains over most other destinations, save for a few monster-buck invitations when they come up.
Nevertheless I return to the Lewis and Clark trail annually and in recent years I team up with local whitetail enthusiast Levi Duncan. Together we hunt deer along the Lewis and Clark trail. Besides hunting a historic region, the rolling river breaks, brushy draws and scattered agriculture create a whitetail utopia with big buck opportunities around every bend. If you want to pursue bucks in the Great Plains then you need to consider altering your traditional whitetail mindset.