First time to SD - lots of questions...

Rooster Rodeo

New member
As for cover in short supply, right-of-ways (isn't that a more dignified term than ditches?) can be even better in dry, mowed years. The fence rows are still there for huntable cover but you don't have as hard a time in the really heavy jungle down in the ditch bottom to see, track and flush birds. They also get concentrated in general areas that had more rain and specific road side water attractions like big sloughs and the deeper dugouts that you can focus on. Lots of section lines that were underwater last year or axle deep in mud should all be back open.

The field access section lines are just walk-ins that are really long rectangles. There is barely a two rut road on most of them and they go on for a mile at a time. It's the same grass cover, crops on the side, fencelines, treelines and adjacent sloughs that you find in any public designated area. You go 10 miles out of town and find one with the right cover and you can walk for days in the grass all alone. That's when SD starts to feel like big country again. If someone does come by I more likely wave them down and see if they want to run the other ditch along with me since we are likely busting birds out the other side. Or have them block for me and get a ride back to the truck. It's a great thing to have other guys show up meet them, not grumble about etiquette and who's going where.

Just because the government puts up a rectangle of fence and designates a walk-in spot doesn't mean you have to be herded like sheep in pen. If the government would only buy more wpa acres, if the government would only buy more crp, if the government would only limit the number of hunters, if the government would send me a book, if the government would just tell me where the bird counts are at. If that thinking pervades your mind than you have missed something about the SD and western culture when you've been out there.

The limitations and boundaries are only in your mind.
I personally have no problem hunting right-of-ways in SD. It’s not how I’ll spend the majority of my time, but I definitely do it when a good opportunity presents itself. However, “field access section lines” has always been a debate within my hunting crew as to what is actually legal. For instance, I use onX for my maps. A barley two track road dividing private lands (represented by a red line on onX) can be legally hunted as a right-of-way?
 

haymaker

Well-known member
On township roads there is a 66 foot right of way that is for public transportation. The state of South Dakota has made that public hunting even though the adjacent landowner pays taxes on it. If the birds are over the right of way you can shoot them, if the birds are over private land they are off limits.
 

Goosemaster

Well-known member
I personally have no problem hunting right-of-ways in SD. It’s not how I’ll spend the majority of my time, but I definitely do it when a good opportunity presents itself. However, “field access section lines” has always been a debate within my hunting crew as to what is actually legal. For instance, I use onX for my maps. A barley two track road dividing private lands (represented by a red line on onX) can be legally hunted as a right-of-way?
In Montana, those are private land.We hunt them at times.
 

A5 Sweet 16

Well-known member
If the birds are over the right of way you can shoot them, if the birds are over private land they are off limits.
You can shoot a bird that flushes from the ROW & flies over private land. Anyone intending to hunt ditches should read the 2021 SD Hunting & Trapping Handbook.
 

Golden Hour

Active member
You can shoot a bird that flushes from the ROW & flies over private land. Anyone intending to hunt ditches should read the 2021 SD Hunting & Trapping Handbook.
I've heard countless interpretations of hunting R'sOW over the years. Going by anything other than the handbook/statute can result in not having a good time.
 

Golden Hour

Active member
I personally have no problem hunting right-of-ways in SD. It’s not how I’ll spend the majority of my time, but I definitely do it when a good opportunity presents itself. However, “field access section lines” has always been a debate within my hunting crew as to what is actually legal. For instance, I use onX for my maps. A barley two track road dividing private lands (represented by a red line on onX) can be legally hunted as a right-of-way?
Unfortunately, the abandoned road or minimum maintenance section line is an incredibly gray area and typically rests on the county/township, as sometimes those "roads" have been legally vacated, which would mean a person cannot hunt that ground without landowner permission. Others are not vacated, but Farmer Joe has planted a foot closer over the past 25 years and has pretty much absorbed it into his property. I've also seen a number of roads illegally fenced or blocked without being vacated. Encounter the landowner and it will be a confrontation. Even if you're in the right, it depends on a person's constitution if it's worth it. If you're going to be in an area for a while, call the local zoning office and ask if a particular road is vacated or if there are a number of vacated roads that exist within the county. I asked our local county government a few years back as I was curious about this myself and the answer I received was that there were no vacated roads in the county, meaning a whole lot of roads that are abandoned and blocked off are legal to hunt. Again, I typically avoid these for hunting, however, I will remove the fence or blockade to access property beyond it. A whole lot of "I don't know, maybe, yes" in there, but maybe it moves clarification from mud to weak coffee?? lol

To answer your question, it depends on the county and, sometimes the township, whether that road is legal to travel and, likewise, whether the right of way can be legally hunted. I would not trust Onx to have the correct information relating to the legality of accessing/traversing/hunting a given right of way.
 

haymaker

Well-known member
You can shoot a bird that flushes from the ROW & flies over private land. Anyone intending to hunt ditches should read the 2021 SD Hunting & Trapping Handbook.
Yes I stand corrected birds that flush from the right of way can be shot. It is probably a mute point as a bird that flushes 5 feet inside the fence will still get shot at.
 

jackrabbit

Active member
Read the rulebook. I always read it front to back before my SD trips. I'm not going to look it up right now, I will in 2 months, but I believe there is something in there that says something along the lines of, "a worn two wheeled track along a section line is a road." Meaning, the road may be nothing more than the farmers way of accessing whatever he has, and is only traveled by his tractor every now and then, but he has created a road that is accessible as a public right of way.

I don't specifically target ROW's, but they do offer tremendous hunting. If I come across an area that looks good, I definitely get out to hunt it. I am usually looking for quality cover on both sides of the road so I can walk one side up and the other side back to my vehicle. A picked corn field on both sides. Water somewhere within a half mile-ish of the area.
 

A5 Sweet 16

Well-known member
Read the rulebook. I always read it front to back before my SD trips. I'm not going to look it up right now, I will in 2 months, but I believe there is something in there that says something along the lines of, "a worn two wheeled track along a section line is a road." Meaning, the road may be nothing more than the farmers way of accessing whatever he has, and is only traveled by his tractor every now and then, but he has created a road that is accessible as a public right of way.

I don't specifically target ROW's, but they do offer tremendous hunting. If I come across an area that looks good, I definitely get out to hunt it. I am usually looking for quality cover on both sides of the road so I can walk one side up and the other side back to my vehicle. A picked corn field on both sides. Water somewhere within a half mile-ish of the area.
This is pretty much my interpretation. If there's a 2-wheel trail that I could drive a 4WD down (even if it eventually becomes unpassable), it's on a section line, there are no fences/signs indicating it's NOT a ROW, & it's not within a "safety zone", it's fair game. (see Handbook for exceptions)
 
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benelli-banger

Well-known member
Some of those section line “roads” are vacated by the township, and if both landowners choose to, they can gate it off and close it to the public. I have one, but the landowner on the other side haven’t chosen to do that, as there are times some of the farmers use it to move equipment…not often…but it could happen.
 

PeteRevvv

Active member
I've only ever seen 1-2 actually closed down and taken out that I can remember so that is a rare thing. Sure, it can be a judgement call at times but that really doesn't matter- I think it's a self-answering question since a good hunting road is an obvious public section line for the reasons below:
  • You want fence lines to help hold the birds in cover and/or wheel ruts in the grass so you get some gravel available for picking. Ruts between fence lines is an obvious give away for a section line. Sometimes it's the farmer's long driveway or ends up in their machine yard but it's not hard to figure that out with a basic phone map in satellite mode.
  • Recently graded, like within the last 5 years is a big plus, so it isn't a bouncy badger hole off-road trek (which gets old fast). Some gravel gets brought to the surface in the process. Gravel is as important as water or feed so stay near it.
  • You want it to go all the way through to the next mile road. Could be straight or many do stop halfway but go out left or right. Backtracking from a dead end is wasted time since more often we are driving, spotting them, then getting out to walk. Rarely do we get a bird on the way back out when we have to turn around and drive back out. Not saying we never go down a dead end, just once early in the day when we have time to catch them in loafing areas. Going down one in the last hour when it is run and gun time is a killer stupid time waste and you may find yourself in the backseat and demoted from driver/navigator when we load back up.
If it looks questionable, you don't want to be down it anyway. Roads that match these descriptions above are good hunting roads and means they have been well maintained. Section line maintenance is 99% of the time provided by the county work as a benefit for farmer's property taxes and thus open to public as a section line for rights of way. A gate or fence usually means a bad washout/waterhole or cattle grazing in the grass due to a broken fence or emergency hay year. Deep grass, thick weeds is a bad sign of no maintenance. When they are marked Minimum Maintenance Road its also a sign it is minimum habitat road as well. Don't get in the mindset of looking for virginal, vast, untouched ground down a road- they are bird desserts.

Some common decencies:
  • Don't tear it up, don't get stuck. If it starts squishy and gets worse, turn around and cut your loss. After 20 hours of bouncing in a combine that last thing a farmer wants is a bouncy ride to the road or a torn up low spot to get stuck in and you've made an enemy for life.
  • Don't give in to temptation venture beyond the fence thinking you are out in the middle of no where. Farmers and con officers will more often glass a truck down a section line than main gravel roads. Guaranteed they have very good optics.
  • Don't go down one that has active field work as you will be in the way. Sections roads are too narrow to get a grain cart or combine header past you. Just scan for moving tractors in the field before you head down one.
  • Do go around to the gravel road side of an active working field as that is where the combine is pushing out birds at the end of field rows.
 

Rooster Rodeo

New member
Unfortunately, the abandoned road or minimum maintenance section line is an incredibly gray area and typically rests on the county/township, as sometimes those "roads" have been legally vacated, which would mean a person cannot hunt that ground without landowner permission. Others are not vacated, but Farmer Joe has planted a foot closer over the past 25 years and has pretty much absorbed it into his property. I've also seen a number of roads illegally fenced or blocked without being vacated. Encounter the landowner and it will be a confrontation. Even if you're in the right, it depends on a person's constitution if it's worth it. If you're going to be in an area for a while, call the local zoning office and ask if a particular road is vacated or if there are a number of vacated roads that exist within the county. I asked our local county government a few years back as I was curious about this myself and the answer I received was that there were no vacated roads in the county, meaning a whole lot of roads that are abandoned and blocked off are legal to hunt. Again, I typically avoid these for hunting, however, I will remove the fence or blockade to access property beyond it. A whole lot of "I don't know, maybe, yes" in there, but maybe it moves clarification from mud to weak coffee?? lol

To answer your question, it depends on the county and, sometimes the township, whether that road is legal to travel and, likewise, whether the right of way can be legally hunted. I would not trust Onx to have the correct information relating to the legality of accessing/traversing/hunting a given right of way.
Thanks, definitely gray, but I learned something, so it helps! I always thought it couldn’t be that simple and it sounds like vacated roads are the catch and thing to be mindful of.
 

jackrabbit

Active member
Got some good advice going on here now. A few more, if it looks at all questionable that you might get stuck - avoid it or just walk it down and back. The last thing a farmer wants in the fall is you walking a mile to find him and him getting in his tractor to come tow you. It may look like you are in the middle of nowhere and nobody will be coming by all day, but pull over plenty far - you never know when a farmer with a wide load is going to be needing to come through. Especially the further west and more isolated you get, I never leave my "main town" without a full tank of gas each morning.
 

Golden Hour

Active member
Got some good advice going on here now. A few more, if it looks at all questionable that you might get stuck - avoid it or just walk it down and back. The last thing a farmer wants in the fall is you walking a mile to find him and him getting in his tractor to come tow you. It may look like you are in the middle of nowhere and nobody will be coming by all day, but pull over plenty far - you never know when a farmer with a wide load is going to be needing to come through. Especially the further west and more isolated you get, I never leave my "main town" without a full tank of gas each morning.
Good advice. One time in high school, dad and I were pulling a flatbed full of square bales and a guy with out of state plates had parked his truck smack dab in the middle of the road and locked the doors. Backing the old hitch pin trailer a quarter mile and then driving 3 1/2 miles around the section was not feasible, so we had to wait for the guy to finish his hunt and come back and move his truck. I always leave the keys in my rig in the event a farmer needs to move it for this very reason. I get most folks aren't comfortable with it and that's fine, but leaving space for large equipment is a good common courtesy.
 
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