South Dakota Pheasant Counts Down 64 Percent

Months of persistent drought in 2012, a cold, wet spring in 2013 and a reduction in habitat have caused South Dakota’s pheasant counts to drop 64 percent from last August to this August, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. The pheasant counts dropped from an index of 4.19 pheasants per mile in 2012 to 1.52 per mile this year.

Avery, a yellow Lab, delivers a rooster pheasant during a 2011 South Dakota hunt. (News Tribune file)

The department released the counts today. Minnesota’s roadside pheasant counts will be released Sept. 9.

“Much of the northern Great Plains experienced the same weather and habitat factors that impacted our brood counts,” said Travis Runia, GFP’s lead pheasant biologist.

Pheasants Forever says upland habitat loss is the primary culprit in the downturn of South Dakota’s legendary pheasant population, a trend which will continue unless federal policy makers swiftly enact strengthened conservation policies.

“By not passing a Farm Bill, by not including  the ‘Protect Our Prairies Act’ (also known as Sodsaver provisions), by not re-linking crop insurance payments to conservation compliance, federal policy makers are all but ensuring this unprecedented habitat loss will continue in South Dakota and across the Midwest,” says Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs. “South Dakota’s identity as the top pheasant-producing state, and as our nation’s premier pheasant hunting destination, is truly dependent on Congressional action.”

Runia noted that lower brood counts in 1992 and 1997 still resulted in almost one million pheasants harvested in South Dakota each year. Since 1992, the state has added 350,000 acres of public access within the main pheasant range, expanding hunting opportunities.

GFP conducts the brood route survey each year on select stretches of roads around the state. All pheasants are counted along each route, with particular attention to the number of broods.

The 2013 pheasant season opens Oct. 19 and runs through Jan. 5, 2014. The Resident Only season Oct. 12-14.