This Saturday, like he has done every third Saturday in October since he was 16, Keith donned his dun-colored jacket, laced up his boots,... 100th Anniversary of South Dakota’s Pheasant Hunting Opened Today

This Saturday, like he has done every third Saturday in October since he was 16, Keith donned his dun-colored jacket, laced up his boots, and pulled on a blaze-orange vest. He loaded up his best friends – human and canine – and spent the afternoon in a cornfield beneath glittering blue skies quietly awaiting the fluttering of rattling tail feathers. It was opening day of pheasant season!

Keith is just one of the thousands of hunters who flock to the Dakotas to try to outwit the wily rooster ringneck. This year, record numbers of sportsmen are expected to mark the 100th anniversary of pheasant hunting in South Dakota.

An inventory by the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department (SDGFP) says the pheasants are cooperating. The annual pheasant brood survey shows a 47 percent increase from last year. The department conducted a study of approximately 100 routes across the state last summer. The count reportedly found an average of about 2.47 pheasants per mile – up from about 1.68 last year.

Pheasants Forever says, “King, and still champion, South Dakota promises the best pheasant populations in the world.” It states, “Over 5 million acres of the Sunshine State are open for public hunting, and hunters have been bagging about a million pheasants each season over the past few years.” It names Roberts County in the extreme northeast as a sleeper county and placed four cities in South Dakota on their 2013 list of 25 best bird hunting towns in America. Pierre was rated No. 1, Huron was No. 4, Eureka was No. 13, and Redfield – trademarked as the Pheasant Capital of the World – came in at No. 15.

Pheasant hunters breeze into these towns and hundreds more, and leave behind dollars. Lots of them! Nonresident hunters are estimated to have spent $310.7 million dollars in the state between fall 2015 and fall 2016, according to a study conducted on behalf of the SDGFP. Most of that money comes just from pheasant hunters. For the 2019 fiscal year, the SDGFP is shooting for nonresident hunting license fees alone to keep the agency flush by providing 34 percent of their annual revenue.

According to Scott Simpson, wildlife administrative chief for SDGFP, “Licensing data shows 50 percent of the 486,953 hunters that visited South Dakota in the last 10 hunting seasons came from seven states.” Minnesotans were the most frequent guests at 103,234 nonresident hunters. Wisconsin contributed 40,998,Texas 26,659, and Iowa 25,632. Nebraska, Michigan, and Illinois all sent over 15,000 hunters.

Now we know where the hunters come from. But how did the pheasants, a non-native species arrive?
According to the first Chinese Ringnecked Pheasant, the official state bird of South Dakota, was introduced to the U.S. in 1881. Owen Nickerson Denny, an Oregonian and the U.S. Consul General, and his wife, Gertrude, shipped 60 pheasants, along with peach trees and bamboo, from Shanghai to Port Townsend, Washington aboard the ship the Otage. The birds are said to have survived the trip on the ocean-going vessel, but the last leg of the journey from Washington to Oregon aboard a train was noisier and much more traumatic. Most of the pheasants were dead on arrival. The few that survived were released on the Columbia River.

The couple continued their mission by releasing more birds in 1882 and 1884. Eventually, the pheasant began to get a toehold in that area, and with the success of the Dennys’ releases, 40 other states, including South Dakota, introduced them into the wild. Dr A. Zetlitz of Sioux Falls is known to have shipped several varieties of pheasants to South Dakota in 1891.

In 1919, South Dakota held its first one-day pheasant season. The pheasant population was thought to be at 100,000 birds; the bag limit was two roosters. The harvest was estimated at around 2000 birds. By 1944, there were about 15 million birds. The season had also grown to 163 days along with the daily bag limit of 10 roosters and five hens. Approximately 119,000 hunters participated that year, and around 6.5 million birds were harvested – an average of 54 birds per hunter. According to local GFP officer Jamie Peckelder, “Limits in South Dakota for 2018 are three roosters per day, with 15 in possession. That’s stayed the same since the 1970s.”

Peckelder says, “Since the pheasant’s introduction to the Dakotas, there have been four occasions of notably high populations: in the early 1930s, following the Great Depression; the mid-1940s, during and just after World War ll; the early 1960s at the peak of the Soil Bank Program; and, most recently, due to the CRP programs and favorable weather conditions.”

Peckelder also explains, “Pheasants do well in dry conditions and in West River -they need the bugs for their nesting period. It’s much harder for them to survive where there is weed spraying, etc. In the abundant years, exceptional habitat, such as during the rationing of fuel in World War II, led to less farming and idle farmland. More grassland in the Soil Bank and CRP years made great pheasant habitat.”

“Open winters facilitate survival, as well as dry, warm springs, – they hatch good numbers. Hail and lots of rain after the chicks hatch also greatly affect the numbers,” Peckelder says. “Although the weather affects the population, the loss of habitat has a more detrimental effect. Farm practices such as chemicals and insecticides change the habitat and are having a huge impact on the pollinators and not just the ones they are targeting.” He says, “Ice storms, like the one we had a few years ago, affect the pheasants’ ability to get food and their habitat. The pheasants can’t get out of elements. Mild winters don’t help numbers increase, but hold them. Increases come from more habitat.”

Hunters pulled the trigger on South Dakota’s 100th Anniversary of pheasant hunting today, October 20, at noon. Dog-gone-it time flies when you’re having fun!

Staff Writer

No comments so far.

Be first to leave comment below.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *