Pheasant hunting season opens this weekend in South Dakota, a state known for its bounty of the prized upland game bird. Hunters from around the world who come here are rarely disappointed: Only three times in the past 20 years has the annual harvest been under 1 million roosters.
Here’s a look at the season, which opens Saturday, its potential for success and its effect on the state:
There’s been a 20 percent drop in South Dakota’s pheasant population from last year, according to an annual statewide roadside survey. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, says Travis Runia, senior upland game biologist with the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.
The surveys might have been influenced by poor weather, he said, and this year’s decrease comes after two years of substantial increases.
“Right now, we’re still about double the level we were in 2013 and about 15 percent above where we were in 2014 … it’s still a vast improvement from where we were a couple of years ago,” Runia said.
The bird is big business in South Dakota.
Last year, nearly 85,000 nonresident pheasant hunters spent an estimated $140 million in the state, and 65,000 resident hunters added another $30 million, according to Game, Fish and Parks data.
Pierre, the state capital, is in the heart of prime pheasant hunting territory. Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lois Ries helped greet hundreds of incoming hunters at the airport on Thursday and Friday with food and gifts to show the city’s appreciation for the economic boost. Various other events were scheduled around the city for opening weekend.
“The whole town just goes really all out to welcome the hunters,” Ries said. “The hospitality here — we really roll out the red carpet.”
So do other cities. In September, officials announced that the large National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic trade show will be held in Sioux Falls in 2018 — South Dakota’s 100th pheasant hunting season.
THAT’S A LOT OF MEAT
About 150,000 hunters killed more than 1.2 million pheasants last year in South Dakota. Officials expect a similar result this year.
“The pheasant abundance is still at a level that can provide good hunting. We’re still expecting to harvest 1 million birds in the state” this year, Runia said.
IF YOU GO
South Dakota has more than 1 million acres of land open to public hunting. The pheasant season runs through next Jan. 1. The daily limit is three roosters, and the possession limit is 15. Shooting hours are noon Central time to sunset for the first seven days of the season, and 10 a.m. Central to sunset the rest of the season.
The National Weather Service says high temperatures this weekend will range from the upper 60s to the lower 80s, with little chance of rain.
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