The river otter is a mostly aquatic furbearer thought to have occupied one of the largest geographic areas among North America’s mammals at time of European Settlement. However, the river otter suffered population declines resulting in the loss of nearly 75% of their range by 1988. Reintroduction efforts throughout North America have led to a successful rebound of this once widely distributed mammal. River otters occur in several streams, rivers and marshes within eastern South Dakota.
River otters are secretive in their behavior but are active year-round during the evening and from the hours of dawn to midmorning. They range in size from 34 to 54 inches in length and their weights can range from 7.4 to 34 lbs. They are characterized by a cylindrical-shaped body with short legs; a rudder-like tail; short, dense fur; and feet that are completely webbed and adapted for an aquatic lifestyle.
In 2020, the river otter was taken off South Dakota’s state threatened species list. This delisting has allowed for a conservative trapping/hunting season; the first in modern times. This trapping/hunting season runs from November 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 or until the conservative harvest limit of 20 river otters has been reached (whichever comes first).
To report a harvested otter during the designated trapping/hunting season, please call 605.353.7319.
Once this harvest is reported, the trapper/hunter will be directed to call a GFP Wildlife office to set up a time to check in the river otter carcass and receive their CITES tag for the detached river otter pelt.
For an update on the current river otter harvest please view the following link:
Or call the River Otter Harvest Hotline at 605.353.7185.
The river otter trapping/hunting season is only open to residents of South Dakota.
A Resident Furbearer license is required for individuals 18 or older. Resident youth participants under 18 do not need to possess a Resident Furbearer license, however, youth 12-15 years of age are required to have a Hunt Safe certification.
Sunrise November 1 to Sunset December 31, 2021 or until the harvest limit of 20 river otters has been reached (whichever comes first).
River otters can be legally harvested within the following counties in eastern South Dakota: Aurora, Beadle, Bon Homme, Brookings, Brown, Charles Mix, Clark, Clay, Codington, Davison, Day, Deuel, Douglas, Grant, Hamlin, Hanson, Hutchinson, Jerauld, Kingsbury, Lake, Lincoln, Marshall, McCook, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Roberts, Sanborn, Spink, Turner, Union and Yankton. See below map.
One river otter per trapper/hunter per season.
*During the open season trappers/hunters are required to report any river otter within 24 hours of harvest to GFP. The trapper/hunter is then required to check in the carcass and detached pelt at a GFP office for registration and CITES tagging of the pelt within 5 days of harvest. After the pelt is tagged, it will be returned to the trapper/hunter. GFP staff will collect biological data from the carcass.
Reports of river otters are used by South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) for the management and monitoring of the species. These reports are valuable information used to modify trapping/hunting seasons, and determine river otter distribution and expansion within SD. Please report any river otter sighting or river otter sign (i.e. tracks or scat) to GFP.
If you catch a river otter outside of the trapping/hunting season
If you catch an otter in a trap or snare outside of the designated trapping/hunting season, release it alive without injuring yourself or the otter. If the animal is severely injured contact a GFP representative as soon as possible. Report these incidentally caught live otters via phone, email, or mail. Knowledge of the location of incidentally caught otter helps to monitor their distribution in the state. If the animal is dead, leave it undisturbed and contact a GFP representative within 12 hours. Carcasses provide important information, such as reproductive status, age, and health. You can learn more about ways you can avoid river otters when trapping in our informational video.
Observing river otter or river otter sign
If you observe a live river otter or river otter sign, record this basic information: date, location (Township, Range, Section or GIS coordinates), general habitat, behavior (if the animal is witnessed) and a description of the animal. The location information is used to help monitor otter distribution in the state. Submit your report via phone, email, or mail. Please include your contact information.
Chamberlain 605.734.4530 | 1550 E. King Ave
Pierre (NHP) 605.773.2742 | 523 East Capitol Ave
Ft Pierre 605.223.7700 | 20641 SD Highway 1806
Rapid City 605.394.2391 | 3305 W. South Street
Sioux Falls 605.362.2700 | 4500 S. Oxbow Ave
Watertown 605.882.5200 | 400 West Kemp
Huron 605.353.7144 | 895 3rd Street SW
Webster 605.345.3381| 603 E. 8th Ave
Aberdeen 605.626.2391 | 5850 East Highway 12