Hunters across the state enjoyed opening day for the traditional South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Season this weekend. For many hunters – resident and non-resident alike – the tradition is a holiday in its own rights.
“Bird numbers are not what they were a few years ago, but our hunters were eagerly waiting for this day,” Tom Kirschenmann, Game, Fish and Parks terrestrial chief, said. “A chance to get out in the field with family and friends, to share stories, and to hunt pheasants is something South Dakota pheasant hunters cherish.”
The drought of 2012 and a wet cold spring combined with a loss of prime pheasant habitat, including Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, has hampered pheasant reproduction, resulting in lower brood count survey numbers. While survey results are down, it hasn’t dampened the spirits of opening day pheasant hunters.
“For most people, opening day is more of an event, an opportunity to reconnect,” said Nathan Baker, GFP regional game manager for central South Dakota. “Hunters averaged about half to one bird each and found decent bird numbers in localized areas.”
“Groups were working hard in even the best habitat,” said Baker. “A majority of the crops are still in the fields because of the recent rains, but hunters were covering everything available from grass to crops to shelterbelts.”
“The nice weather made it a good day to be out. Most hunters knew that bird numbers were down but remained upbeat,” Baker said.
“Our CREP areas are very popular in the northeastern part of the state,” GFP’s Jacquie Ermer, game manager for that part of the state, said. “The crop harvest is a little further behind in many parts of the region and hunter numbers were down, but spirits were high.”
“Hunters in Mcphereson, Faulk and Spink Counties averaged one to one and a half birds per hunter. In the more northeastern part of the state it was about half a bird per hunter. Many groups we talked to reported seeing younger birds, “Ermer said.
Southeastern South Dakota hunters followed the trend of averaging about half a bird per hunter.
“Seventy percent of our corn is still in,” said Conservation Officer Supervisor Jeremy Roe. “Hunter numbers were down quite a bit but I talked to many resident hunters and landowners who seemed interested in doing what they can to increase habitat and bird numbers”.
Roe reported that Aurora county hunters averaged a bird per group.
“Resident and non-resident hunters are very tuned in to the pre-season pheasant counts and what is happening on the landscape,” said Kirschenmann. “While they are concerned with lower bird numbers, their enthusiasm for hunting pheasants remains high.”
With an elevated concern over the reduced pheasant population and changes to habitat, the Governor will be hosting a Pheasant Habitat Summit on Dec. 6 in Huron. For more information, or to register to attend the summit, go to www.gfp.sd.gov/pheasantsummit.
Image courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks