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S.D. pheasant numbers double

South Dakota will not lose its title as Pheasant Capital of the World anytime soon. The state's pheasant population more than doubled in 2003 to hit a 40-year high, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks announced this week. That is ...

South Dakota will not lose its title as Pheasant Capital of the World anytime soon.

The state's pheasant population more than doubled in 2003 to hit a 40-year high, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks announced this week.

That is good news for the approximately 150,000 hunters -- including 80,000 nonresidents -- who pursue the popular game bird each fall in South Dakota. It is also good news for the state, which says it realized a $78 million windfall from pheasant hunting last year.

The annual survey by Game, Fish and Parks -- taken in early August by observing birds along 100 prescribed routes -- indicated a 120 percent increase in the statewide pheasant population.

Division of Wildlife director Doug Hansen said the surveys have shown generally positive trends in the pheasant population over the past decade, but this year's numbers are unprecedented since 1963. This year's survey count is 19 percent above the highest recorded in 40 years.

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"This year's results can be attributed to a very favorable alignment of weather conditions and habitat," Hansen said.

Moisture last fall, followed by a mild winter and perfect weather conditions during nesting season -- including a damp spring that provided many insects for chicks -- benefited the pheasant population, Hansen said. The Conservation Reserve Program and unmowed ditches were key habitat factors, he said.

The highlight of the survey areas was Aberdeen. The 2002 survey near that north-central South Dakota city had an average of 60 pheasants per 30-mile route. In 2003, those same routes averaged 228 pheasants. That's an increase of 243 percent.

Counts around Huron, Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown and Sisseton were higher than any made in the past 10 years.

The pre-hunting season pheasant population in South Dakota last year was estimated at 5.5 million. About 1.3 million birds were shot.

North Dakota's pheasant survey will be released in the next couple of weeks, according to the state's Game and Fish Department wildlife division director Randy Kreil.

He expects it will contain good news for hunters, too.

"We won't be able to say definitively until we have the survey, but it looks pretty good," Kreil said. "We have pheasants in places we haven't had them since 1996-97."

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That was the year a rough winter wiped out much of the pheasant population in areas of North Dakota.

Kreil said the pheasant population in North Dakota is more cyclical than South Dakota because North Dakota is at the upper reaches of pheasant range.

"South Dakota is the heart of pheasant country, so birds there can weather the storm a little better, so to speak," Kreil said. "In North Dakota, we'll see what we're seeing now. With good conditions, pheasants will move into many areas and the population will grow. But then we'll have a bad winter and get knocked back to reality."

The pheasant season opens Oct. 11 in North Dakota and Oct. 18 in South Dakota.

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