History of School Lands for Public Hunting

Thumb through a western South Dakota hunting atlas and you'll find a splatter of colors showing public hunting opportunities. Green indicates national forest. Purple is for national grassland. Orange denotes walk-in areas. And blue signifies school land.

Acreage owned by South Dakota's school system offers public hunting opportunity. (Photo courtesy of South Dakota Office of School & Public Lands)

School land is an oddly literal name. These tracts are owned by the state's board of education. Some of the parcels date back to 1803, when Pres. Thomas Jefferson gave land grants to schools in states entering the Union. The purpose of these tracts was to fund public education, whether through sale or lease.

In South Dakota, the original grant from 1864 gave schools Sections 16 and 36 in each township (or other lands if those sections were already settled). States in the Great Plains needed this provision, because eastern counties were well established, while those to the west weren't. It's how western areas of South Dakota and Nebraska ended up with many square miles of school trust land, when there's far less of it to the east.


Today most of these areas are open to public hunting, giving sportsmen thousands of acres on which to chase elk, antelope and, of course, whitetails. However, the school land outlook wasn't always so rosy.


Some states struggled with corruption and incompetence early in the program, with properties often being sold at bargain prices to private buyers. As a result, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Indiana and Ohio, among other states, retained none of their original grants. Several were bailed out down the road with other federal gifts, including the Swampland grant that gave Minnesota 4.7 million more acres.

States that joined the U.S. after the 1880s took note of this flawed management and used a different approach to monetize the land given to them. Leases became more popular, as local farmers and businesses rented the ground for planting crops, grazing livestock, harvesting timber and extracting oil. It's why states such as Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico on average still have as much of the original acreage as they do.

The history of school trust lands is a reminder of why we shouldn't let history repeat itself with the modern land grab now under way. Losing these tracts means losing public-land hunting opportunity.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

September Black Hills Whitetail Hunt

September Black Hills Whitetail Hunt

Gordon Whittington is hunting Eastern Wyoming with his crossbow where he encounters a fast moving situation.

Deer Dog: Shed Conditioning

Deer Dog: Shed Conditioning

Jeremy Moore talks about the importance of your deer dog's physical conditioning.

Stan Potts

Stan Potts' Debut NAW Hunt

North American Whitetail revisits Stan Potts' very first hunt for the TV Show.

Deer Dog: Replicating Realistic Tracks

Deer Dog: Replicating Realistic Tracks

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore discusses the role scent plays when it comes to tracking and how to incorporate it into your training.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

To hear many serious trophy bowhunters tell it, Kentucky must be a figment of someone's fertile United States

Best Spots for Bowhunting Kentucky Trophy Bucks

Gordon Whittington - July 21, 2016

To hear many serious trophy bowhunters tell it, Kentucky must be a figment of someone's...

Even snow-white deer are fairly common in comparison to those that are abnormally dark in color. Deer Behavior & Facts

Rarest Whitetails Of All?

Gordon Whittington - September 22, 2010

Even snow-white deer are fairly common in comparison to those that are abnormally dark in...

Here's how to crack the summer code. Early Season

3 Types of Late-Summer Bucks & How to Hunt Them

Garrett Tucker

Here's how to crack the summer code.

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season. Bowhunting

The Best Arrows for Deer Hunting

Tony J. Peterson - June 10, 2019

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season.

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation

As Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) has riddled deer herds across portions of the country in Conservation

University Testing Finds Help in Deer EHD Outbreak Battle

North American Whitetail Online Staff - July 07, 2017

As Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) has riddled deer herds across portions of the country...

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and its relative, bluetongue, are transmitted to whitetails by Conservation

Why Drought Isn't the Only Factor in Deer EHD

Gordon Whittington - February 14, 2018

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and its relative, bluetongue, are transmitted to...

An October cold front put this 212-plus-inch (green) Missouri monster on his feet and in the sights of bowhunter Buddy Deville Non-Typical

Rainy Day Non-Typical Giant Buck Arrowed in Missouri

Haynes Shelton - October 23, 2018

An October cold front put this 212-plus-inch (green) Missouri monster on his feet and in the...

With 'zombie deer' headlines going viral and Chronic Wasting Disease suddenly making front-page news, Dr. Deer sounded off on the topic. Conservation

The Truth About Zombie Deer & A CWD Cure

Lynn Burkhead - February 22, 2019

With 'zombie deer' headlines going viral and Chronic Wasting Disease suddenly making...

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.