Wildlife at Custer State Park

Wildlife at Custer State Park

Custer State Park in South Dakota is a beautiful, 71,000-acre park where you can see an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat. 

Wildlife at Custer State Park

If you are lucky, you may see a variety of wildlife throughout the park, along the trails, roadside, in the campground, as well as on the Wildlife Loop Road.

The wildlife is most active during the early morning or later in the evening.

Some of the wildlife you could see include bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, mountain goats, burros, turkeys, and birds.

Safety Around Wildlife

It is important to stay in your vehicle or at least 100 yards from the animals.  If any wild animal changes its behavior due to your presence, then you are too close, back away!

Feeding the park’s wildlife is prohibited.  Feeding any wild animal can be dangerous to both you and the animal.

The Bison Center at Custer State Park

In 2020 the park was awarded a $4 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to construct the Custer State Park Bison Center.  Located on the Wildlife Loop Road, this new center opened in May 2022.

The focus of the center will be on the tenured history of the bison herd at Custer State Park.  The center will educate visitors with displays and tell the origin story of the park’s bison, herd management, and the annual Buffalo Roundup and Auction.

Bison Collaring

Hoping to gain a better understating of how the bison herds utilize the areas in the park, the park partnered on a project with South Dakota State University.  The project will study the grazing behavior and movements of bison within Custer State Park.

Twenty-five mature bison cows received radio collars to track their movements throughout the year.  The collars will be retrieved next year, and the data will be downloaded and studied.

Wildlife Station Visitor Center

In addition to the Bison Center, there is also a Wildlife Station Visitor Center at Custer State Park.  This center is also located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

This building began as a herdsman’s house. In 1987 it was converted into a visitor center.  Stop in and talk with staff, ask questions, and learn more about the park!

Hunting at Custer State Park

Several animals at Custer State Park are managed through hunting programs.  This helps in reducing the size of populations, as well as preventing overcrowding in the park.  Control of numbers helps ensure an adequate supply of food for all species, helps to prevent habitat loss and competition between species.

Most of the hunting is done from mid-September through early January.  The fees collected from the hunting licenses helps generate revenue to fund wildlife management programs.

Species managed through hunting include bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, mountain lion, and turkey.

Our Wildlife Experience

We spent two days in Custer State Park and had an amazing time! The scenery and wildlife are spectacular! We went to the park for both sunrise and sunset, and I’m sure you can imagine, it didn’t disappoint in terms of scenery and wildlife viewing!

On the morning of our sunrise ride, we were immediately greeted by dear and by mountain goats! Throughout the day, and then on our sunset ride, we also saw prairie dogs, big horned sheep, white-tailed deer, burros, bison, elk, coyotes, and lots of birds! 

We were thrilled to see so much wildlife, this was an amazing experience!

We will definitely go back to Custer State Park to enjoy all the wildlife again! 

Besides wildlife, Custer State Park has so much to offer!

  • Hiking Trails and Horseback Riding
  • Camping and Boating
  • Scenic Drives and Jeep Tours
  • Park Programs and Special Events

We can’t wait to go back next summer and explore more of the park!  If you haven’t visited Custer State Park yet, put it on your list! You will love it!

Fun Facts About Bison

  • Bison are North America’s largest land animal
  • A mature bull can weigh up to 2,000 pounds
  • A mature cow can weight up to 1,000 pounds
  • Bison stand abut 6-6.5 feet tall and 10-12.5 feet long
  • One buffalo will eat approximately 3-4 percent of their body weight in a forage daily
  • A mature cow will require 10 to 20 gallon of water daily
  • A bison’s hump is composed of muscle, support by long vertebrae
  • Cows begin reproducing around 2-3 years of age, gestation period is 9.5 months
  • Bison can live in the wild for 15 years, in captivity for as long as 25 years
  • Bison and Buffalo are used interchangeable. In North America the scientific name is bison
  • Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the US where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times
  • Yellowstone’s bison population is estimated at 4,900, making it the largest bison population on public lands
  • When baby bison are born, they are an orange-red color and they are nicknamed “red dogs”. After a few months their hair starts to change to dark brown, their characteristic shoulder hump and horns begin to grow
  • You can judge a bison’s mood by its tail.  When it hangs down and switches naturally, the bison is calm. If the tail is standing straight up, watch out! They could be ready to charge
  • Bison are big and fast! They can run up to 35 miles per hour, they can spin around quickly, jump high fences and they are strong swimmers
  • Bison primarily eat grass, weeds, and leafy plants, typically foraging for 9-11 hours a day
  • When bison roll around in the dirt that is called wallowing. They do it to help deter biting flies and help shed fur. Male bison also wallow during mating season to leave behind their scent
  • Bison are nearsighted. Bison have poor eyesight, but have excellent sense of smell and hearing
Wildlife at Custer State ParkWildlife at Custer State Park

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