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South Dakota Ranks 30th for Percent of Land Open to Public for Hunting

Governor Kristi Noem conflates Freedom™ with guns and hunting. But an essay by Iowa researcher and author Chris Jones gets me thinking about how much opportunity South Dakota offers people to exercise their cherished gun-hunting freedom.

Jones, who has appeared on this blog in discussions of the Iowa Republican carbon dioxide pipeline and the myth-making of the ag-industrial complex, is publishing The Swine Republic, a book compiling some of his best blog work. In one bookified blog post, Jones discusses the relative lack of public land in Iowa:

In his essay called “No Country For Old Men,” included in “Swine Republic,” Jones talks about hitting the road in a 35-year-old camper during the COVID-19 pandemic. He compared Iowa’s 3 percent of public land with that of Arkansas.

“Somehow this state (Arkansas), with 30% less GDP, 10% fewer people and 15% less area, is able to afford 10 times more public land than Iowa,” Jones writes.

“ … If you’ve been to an Iowa park any time during the pandemic, you’ve seen the situation here in Iowa is disgraceful. All summer long, campgrounds, boat launches, the picnic areas and trails were busier than ever. Getting a weekend campsite was nearly impossible at times.”

Iowa agricultural groups, including the Farm Bureau, have lobbied for legislation to make it harder for Iowans to donate their land for public use and conservation [Erin Jordan, “With ‘Swine Republic’ book, University of Iowa’s Chris Jones Continues to Stir the Pot,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2023.04.28].

Jones got me wondering: how does South Dakota rank in preserving public lands open to the public for recreation?

Backcountry Chronicles post that appears to be a decade old lists the public land, state and federal, in each state that is open to hunting. According to the data compiled in that post, South Dakota has 2.38 million acres where folks with or without firearms can chase critters. That’s 4.9% of the state’s total land area, or roughly the equivalent of seven southeastern South Dakota counties (minus the asphalty/McMansiony Sioux Fallsy bits in Lincoln County) or, out west, all of Meade County and the upright chunk of the Pennington tomahawk:

All of the public land in South Dakota consolidated into one contiguous blob would cover the green-highlighted chunk of southeastern South Dakota OR Meade County and a bit of northern Pennington. Map from, annotated by CAH/DFP.
All of the public land in South Dakota consolidated into one contiguous blob would cover the green-highlighted chunk of southeastern South Dakota OR Meade County and a bit of northern Pennington. Map from, annotated by CAH/DFP.

2.38 million acres is a lot of room to roam, but 29 other states offer a greater percentage of their land for hunting, and 19 states—8 of them with less total land area than South Dakota, offer more acres of public land. The following table, edited from Backcountry Chronicles, lists states by percent of land open to hunting, from greatest to least.

State Total Land Acres (x1000) USFS Acres (x1000) BLM Acres (x1000) State Owned Acres (x1000) Total Land Open to Hunt (x1000) % of State Open to Hunt Acres Per Person to Hunt
Nevada 70,260 5,826 47,800 126 53,752 76.5 19.9
Alaska 365,210 21,974 73,000 105,200 271,174 74.3 381.8
Utah 52,589 8,111 22,800 3,825 34,736 66.1 12.6
Idaho 52,892 20,459 11,600 2,748 34,807 65.8 22.2
Oregon 61,432 15,656 16,100 2,996 34,752 56.6 9.1
Wyoming 62,140 9,238 18,300 3,865 31,403 50.5 55.7
Arizona 72,700 11,255 12,200 9,084 32,539 44.8 5.1
New Mexico 77,631 9,327 13,400 8,700 31,427 40.5 15.3
California 99,699 20,653 15,300 2,243 38,197 38.3 1
Colorado 66,331 14,509 8,300 550 23,397 35.3 4.7
Montana 93,149 16,886 7,983 5,196 30,065 32.3 30.4
Washington 42,532 9,202 400 3,865 13,467 31.7 2
Michigan 36,185 2,857 0 4,489 7,346 20.3 0.7
New Hampshire 5,730 827 0 164 991 17.3 0.8
Florida 34,320 1,147 0 4,737 5,884 17.1 0.3
Minnesota 50,961 2,838 0 5,379 8,217 16.1 1.5
New Jersey 4,707 0 0 740 740 15.7 0.1
Wisconsin 34,661 1,521 0 3,646 5,167 14.9 3.1
Pennsylvania 28,635 513 0 3,657 4,170 14.6 0.3
New York 30,161 0 0 3,824 3,824 12.7 0.2
Arkansas 33,303 2,579 0 653 3,232 9.7 1.1
West Virginia 15,384 1,033 0 449 1,482 9.6 0.8
Rhode Island 662 0 0 60 60 9 0.1
Tennessee 26,390 634 0 1,722 2,356 8.9 0.4
Virginia 25,274 1,659 0 347 2,006 7.9 0.3
Vermont 5,899 368 0 95 463 7.9 0.7
Missouri 43,995 1,495 0 1,030 2,525 5.7 0.4
Connecticut 3,099 0 0 173 173 5.6 0
Maryland 6,213 0 0 344 344 5.5 0.1
South Dakota 48,519 2,012 274 90 2,376 4.9 2.9
Louisiana 27,650 604 0 745 1,349 4.9 0.3
Delaware 1,247 0 0 61 61 4.9 0.1
Maine 19,739 53 0 889 942 4.8 0.7
Massachusetts 4,992 0 0 232 232 4.6 0
North Dakota 44,161 1,106 58 812 1,976 4.5 2.9
North Carolina 31,115 1,244 0 136 1,380 4.4 0.1
South Carolina 19,239 613 0 206 819 4.3 0.2
Mississippi 30,031 1,159 0 109 1,268 4.2 0.4
Georgia 36,809 865 0 350 1,215 3.3 0.1
Alabama 32,413 665 0 396 1,061 3.3 0.2
Kentucky 25,271 693 0 111 804 3.2 0.2
Ohio 26,151 229 0 422 651 2.5 0.1
Indiana 22,929 196 0 306 502 2.2 0.1
Oklahoma 43,901 397 100 435 932 2.1 0.2
Illinois 35,532 292 0 406 698 2 0.1
Nebraska 49,167 352 100 247 699 1.4 0.4
Texas 167,188 755 11 825 1,591 1 0.1
Kansas 52,326 108 0 312 420 0.8 0.1
Iowa 35,749 0 0 266 266 0.7 0.1
Hawaii 4,110 0 0 24 24 0.6 0

Even liberal places like Minnesota, New York, and California set aside more of their land for public use than South Dakota does.

And notice that, as in so many other affairs, the federal government subsidizes South Dakota’s mediocre ranking. 96.2% of the land in South Dakota open to hunting is owned and preserved by the federal government. The 3.8% of public land held by the state of South Dakota is the third-lowest state-held-public-land percentage in the country. Five states on the East Coast—New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maryland—offer a greater percentage of their land for hunting and other public access without any U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management acres. Delaware also has none of that federally-owned hunting land, but it ties South Dakota with 4.9% of its land in state hands.

Of course, as Jones notes, public land isn’t as fun if its crowded. Backcountry Chronicles figures the amount of public land available to each person in each state. Based on 2010 population figures, South Dakota offers 2.9 acres of public hunting land per resident. That ties us with North Dakota for #12 in the nation. (For perspective, if we each stood in the center of a 2.9-acre circle, we’d be about 400 feet apart, close enough to sting each other with our shotgun blasts.)

But South Dakota doesn’t lead the nation on any of those metrics. In terms of keeping land open for hunting and other public enjoyment, South Dakota doesn’t offer as much wide open space as other states, and most of the geographical freedom we do offer is preserved by the federal government.


  1. All Mammal 2023-05-02

    I have noticed the public places owned by us are often times corner locked or completely isolated. Big land hoarders, like Jack Links and good ol Scull, lock up vast swaths of public land we cannot get to unless we drop straight down from the sky. They refuse to grant us access to our own lands. It is class discrimination based on land ownership or lack thereof.

    I cannot even tell you how many amazing landowners there are who tell you to go for it after poking around their shop or quanset while seeking to find them to ask for permission to access land via their gate.

    I also cannot tell you how many times we have encountered grumpy safari hosts trying to chase us off public lands because we were scaring game they were paid a substantial sum of money by out-of-state hunters to shoot. Some Western SD murky entrepreneurs exploit public land for their side hustle. Urbanite or not, it is still the public’s land, which makes us all entitled to enjoy in the flesh.

    I won’t even get started on the denied access to navigable rivers up to her high water mark. Shotgun barrels do steer a gal and her two adorable canine friends right back the other way fairly quickly. And when there are Do Not Trespass signs posted on public access points, the agent at the respective bureau instructs me to remove the sign, but tell the psycho with the shotgun that he wasn’t the one who told me to do it. Corruption in SD is boundless.

    But somehow, with the help of gracious stewards of the land, we always manage to enjoy our outings into the great, wide golden.

  2. P. Aitch 2023-05-02

    Cory notes: “Even liberal places like Minnesota, New York, and California set aside more of their land for public use than South Dakota does.”
    Well pilgrims, of course liberals love hunting. At least the ability for you to hunt, if that’s what floats your pontoon.
    We “liberals” actually are a group that promotes freedom. You “connies” literally promote just being contrary.

  3. Bonnie B Fairbank 2023-05-02

    I know less than nothing about hunting in any state, but I wonder how much game is poached in South Dakota. In 2014, 2015, and 2017 (dunno what happened to ’16) the SAME TWO brain trusts tried to convince me to let them shoot deer on my 1.1 acre property during “apple season.” I told them they were nuts the first two years they asked; the man got snippy in ’17 when I shouted at them to GTFO and the woman cried because their neighbors in Shep’s Canyon turned them in. Hmmmm, maybe I do know what happened in 2016.

    The relative paucity of SD land open to the public for hunting might not be as much of a factor for taking game as it seems. South Duhkoduhns loves them some freedumbs.

  4. e platypus onion 2023-05-02

    Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa and a prominent voice for water quality in this state, said two state senators pressured his superiors to have his popular blog removed from the university’s website.

    “And so a couple guys from Legislature recently came to the university and said that, you know, it was interesting, I guess, would be a word to say, that the university comes to the Legislature wanting money for various programs, while they allow this blog to continue on the university domain,” Jones said in an interview with Iowa journalist Robert Leonard published on Friday. “And so they indicated that, you know, this needed to stop, the university indicated this needs to stop. And, you know, I always knew this day could come.”

  5. mick 2023-05-02

    Hunting should be outlawed and hunters should be terminated with extreme prejudice.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2023-05-02

    My father believed that the pheasants of South Dakota, like the fish in the lakes, belonged to the people of South Dakota. He was respectful of landowners and fully complied with the GFP rules, but didn’t let those contingencies make him pass up a good shot. I’m glad he died before all these pay to hunt “game farms” came into existence. He would scoff at the notion that landowners owned the pheasants…whether pen raised “sort of pheasants,” or wild survivors.

  7. ABC 2023-05-07

    Wait for Mass Shooting Thune, and Mass shooting Rounds to offer their ineffective prayers after the Allen Texas mall massacre, 8 dead by an AR 15.

    Thune Rounds and Dirty Johnson are extremists who value the right of a person to own an AR 15 more than an 8 year old child not to get shot at a mall or school. Those 3 support those weapons of war. They do not support children’s safety, they support guns only. Vote them out forever.

    In the jungle, elephants fall when jackals or mongoose gang up on them.

    We should have 20 people running against them every 2 years. They support the easy availability of AR 15s and the death that follows.

  8. larry kurtz 2023-05-07

    Exactly. Sobriety checkpoints are ubiquitous in South Dakota to protect other people from reckless violence but laws that might slow deaths from gun violence are infringements on the rights of children to be free are nonexistent.

  9. larry kurtz 2023-05-07

    Statutes that might slow deaths from gun violence are critical to the rights of children to be free in a state that pretends to protect freedom.

    But prohibition won’t work. Yes, bullying can lead to massacres and when the US ended the draft in 1973 the number of mass shootings began to rise so Congress should enact compulsory military service or police training as one way to slow gun violence. Enlistment could look like the Swiss model where soon after high school eighteen year olds would join for two years then re-up or enroll in the college or vocational training of ones choosing.

    Raise the civilian age of possession, operation and ownership of all firearms to 21, levy 100% excise taxes on the sales of semi-automatic weapons then tag the revenue for Medicaid expansion so parents have the resources to address the devastating effects of Fox News on American youth.

    If it were possible and the oligarchs wouldn’t hijack a Convention of States a rewrite of the Second Amendment would be at the top of my list.

    Anyway, thank you again, Nino Scalia, for reminding us why Democrats need to control not just the federal bench but every court in every jurisdiction.

  10. Arlo Blundt 2023-05-07

    Another Mass Shooting in Texas. Would make a good name for a song. Could be played at Thune and Noem rallies.

  11. ABC 2023-05-08

    A Texas legislator saw photos of the Uvalde victims. Two of the kids entire faces were blown off.
    An artists rendering of the two faces could be a good anti Thune anti Marion Rounds rally poster.

    NRA and 4 years of Trump gave us Fascism Lite. Trump wants more in 2024. Our failure to stop trump in 2024 will be writ large on the fading days of our once democratic republic. More global warming, record temps in Vietnam Laos and Burma, mass shootings every day, less voting rights, this can morph into worse easily.

    The argument of awe shucks I like Guns I like to hunt is baloney. Does your stamp collecting or crocheting hobby RIP the faces off children? We are either man and woman enough to ban assault weapons permanently and put in reasonable safety checks on guns, or we will continue to be one of the most violent countries on earth.

    2nd Amendment does not protect children and people from ar 15s, it has to go.

  12. ABC 2023-05-08

    Wanna hunt? Go to England.

    The NRA argument is nature is stupid, we gotta have guns to balance animal numbers. Baloney. Nature is smarter than most voters!

    In England, hunting or target practice guns stay at the club, locked up.

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