The area that encompasses Custer State Park was originally established as a Game Preserve back in 1913 to re-introduce wildlife species eliminated by early settlers and gold seekers.
Today, wildlife abounds in and around Custer State Park. On the northern edge of the park, 56,000 acres are set aside for the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. In its center sits the 13,000-acre Black Elk Wilderness, which encompasses the Harney Range and was named in honor of Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota holy man. Since the animals are free-roaming, they show up all over the park. You never know when or where you might spot them.
What started as a herd of 6 bulls, 12 cows, and 18 calves from a Fort Pierre settler in 1914, has grown into a free-roaming bison herd of more than 1,300 strong. During the year, the herd spends its time grazing throughout the park.
Come fall, it’s roundup time. The animals are driven through the valley to be counted and checked for general health at the annual Buffalo Roundup.
Through a series of breakouts, bottle-feedings, and smart conservation practices, the park is also home to elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, white-tail and mule deer, and a variety of flying birds.
If you want to get up close, book a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour. It’s the only way to go off the Wildlife Loop Road in the park and often you’ll end up right in their midst.
Summer is the most popular time to visit, but the other seasons offer unique viewing opportunities. Come in the spring to see the baby wildlife. In winter, wildlife is easier to spot as they search for food and lose some of their natural shyness.