Dakota Whitetail | Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis

Dakota Whitetail Deer | Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis

Copyright Tom Reichner


Dakota Whitetail

Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis

by Patrick Meitin

First observed in North Dakota and scientifically described by one F. Hayden in 1856, Dakota white-tailed deer have become one of the most sought-after whitetail subspecies in North America, due largely to world-renowned antlers and massive body size. The Dakota whitetail is found from far-western Minnesota and west to central Montana and Wyoming, south to northern Colorado and north into Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. They overlap Northwestern whitetails in the far western edges of their range and northern woodland whitetails to the east. They have been observed as far north as the western Northwest Territories and southeastern Yukon in recent years — the farthest northern reaches of any whitetail range.

Dakota whitetails are denizens of a variety of Western habitats, including mixed deciduous riparian corridors, river valley bottomlands, foothill grasslands and coniferous mountains and forests found in the Bighorn and Blacks Hills of Wyoming, and other isolated ranges surrounded by prairie. In farmlands, they often retreat to marshes and sloughs to find cover.

Farming and clear-cut coniferous timber harvest have generally been beneficial to Dakota whitetails, creating abundant food where there was once very little, logging accomplishing this by increasing the incidence of deciduous vegetation. There are now more Dakota whitetails in existence than before Lewis and Clark arrived in these territories during the Corps of Discovery Expedition chartered by President Thomas Jefferson after finalizing the Louisiana Purchase. Dakota whitetails are typically most abundant near farmlands where grain and alfalfa is cultivated.

Hunting was suspended by the 1930s in most of this region due to exploitation, but within decades recovered sufficiently for hunting to resume. Careful game management assures the subspecies not only flourishes, but trophy hunting has never been better.

The Dakota whitetail exhibits characteristics in line with both Allen’s and Bergmann’s Rule: the fist stating that the farther north and colder the habitat a species is found in the shorter extremities become (legs, tail and ears), and of the second, animals grow heavier and exhibit less surface area the farther from the equator they are found. Dakota whitetails are regularly tagged weighing more than 300 pounds on the hoof. They also appear regularly in Pope & Young archery and Boone & Crockett all-time big-game record books. Dakota whitetails are generally lighter in hue than other whitetail species, likely due to their predominantly open habitats.

The Dakota whitetail’s massive body size is a natural element of its environment, as these subspecies must survive some of the harshest winter conditions in all of North America, including deep snow, killing wind-chill factors and temperatures occasionally plummeting to less than -45 degrees F. Natural predators include coyotes, which are especially hard on newborn fawns, and occasional mountain lions.

November is rutting season for the Dakota whitetail, fawns dropping, on average, by mid-June to assure survival via warmer spring weather and abundant new growth. Given their 200-day gestation period determining precise rut dates in specific locations is accommodated by noting newborn fawns and counting back to determine approximate fertilization dates.

Bowhunters usually pursue Dakota whitetail from stands hung in wooded or riparian areas, or portable blinds set beside or in agricultural fields, though many archers have succeeded through spot-and-stalk approaches in open habitats. Baiting is legal in Wyoming, and bowhunters often tag velvet-antlered bucks hunting in this manner. Rifles hunters also sit stands regularly, but still-hunting along river bottoms or spot-and-stalk ploys in river breaks can also bring success. In northern areas where thick woodlots, coulee heads or creek bottoms are common, “pushing brush” (more commonly called drives in the East) is a common and productive mode of operation, especially in areas where big bucks turn nocturnal.

Public lands and lottery or over-the-counter tags are common throughout the Dakota whitetail’s range, so do-it-yourself hunting is popular. Even in private farmlands public walk-in areas are abundant in this region (most notably Nebraska and Montana). Canada provinces require non-resident aliens to hire a registered outfitter, with hunt prices starting at $3,500 for quality hunts in proven trophy areas.


Locations the Dakota Whitetail is Found

Colorado: The Dakota whitetail is found largely in north-central Colorado, populations originating from the North Platte River valley which flows north into Wyoming and eventually the Bighorn River. Rocky Mountain State Dakota whitetails normally concentrate along drainages radiating from this major watercourse. For more information, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/.

Wyoming: The Dakota whitetail is most commonly found along major rivers and brushy drainages through the central and northeastern portions of Wyoming, though are occasionally discovered far to the west of the state. Populations are also found in the Bighorn Mountains and western Black Hills, the Devil’s Tower area a popular Cowboy State destination. For more information, visit https://wgfd.wyo.gov/.

Montana: The eastern half of Montana as a whole is reliable Dakota whitetail habitat, particularly along major river valleys such as the Yellowstone, Missouri, Powder and Milk rivers, among others. Montana Dakota whitetails are often discovered far from major drainages, especially around irrigated crop circles or islands of vegetation that appear along washes or isolated hills. For more information, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/.

Nebraska: Dakota whitetail deer can be found throughout the state, but are most common along the big river bottoms of this prairie state, including the Missouri River, Platte River and Niobrara River, and the National Grasslands of the Sandhill Region to the north, including multiple man-made forested areas. For more information, visit http://outdoornebraska.gov/hunting/.

Canada: The Dakota whitetail is most commonly found in the northern boreal forests, tiaga and scrublands of Alberta and Saskatchewan, with deer densities highest at the edges of agricultural activities.

A giant Dakota whitetail buck taken by Mark Kayser.

A giant Dakota whitetail buck taken by Mark Kayser.