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2017 South Dakota Spring Pheasant Outlook Report

June 12, 2017 by

Many look to outlook reports to determine whether or not to make travels plans to South Dakota for pheasant hunting.  This report explains why that may not be so wise...

I get asked all the time "How are the birds doing?".  More and more I say "I don't know, ask me in December".  Or I might say to our hunters, "You're going to tell me as an outcome of your hunt".

For sure the most telling time of the year to know what is or was out there for birds is based purely on how successful our hunters were and what we are seeing when the weather gets cold and all the crops are out of the field and birds are forced into high quality cover.

As far as making decisions on a pheasant hunting trip to the state many reports do a disservice to the prospective hunters because no one metric can tell a given group of hunters what they will experience on thier hunt that year.  There are just simply way too many variables in the equation to do that job.

A month or two ago it occurred to me that the biggest factor in bird numbers is the CRP acres being down from their high of 1.5 million acres to under a million acres.  While the state has lost acres to habitat the remaining habitat is still producing just as well as ever if not better. Another variable that is not easily measured is the quality or productivity of the remaining CRP acres.  I know for a fact that as acres comes out and go back in, their quality assurance is much higher because of new requirements for seeding plans, diverisity and management going forward. In short, the habitat going forward is much more optimised for wildlife and that produces more birds.

As far as weather is concerned, here is a summary of weather conditions affecting pheasant numbers across the state:

- In December their were some strong snow storms impacting the north and northwest parts of the state. Fortunately the game changer on these deep snowfall storms was an early mid winter melt off.  Additionally we have reports of strong bird numbers in some of these heavy hit areas this spring.

- Overall, this spring was considered more warm and dry than last spring overall.  We were setup for a stronger hatch than last year.  However, drought conditions have now persisted in much of the Dakota's and high temps can be a threat to young broods.  I saw my first hatched pheasant chicks on June 1 which is normal.  I also saw good bird numbers in April while delivering food plot seed across the state to our various camps.

-So many will await the GFP report that comes out on Labor Day and will base plans on this outcome.  This may be unwise in that even in good hatch results the current numbers will pale in comparison to recent years all time highs when CRP acres were also high.  In fact, I feel that making any decisions based on state level data is unwise and misleading.  One should base their decisions by local weather and local outfitter and local property reports and data.  That is what impacts pheasants is the variability factors at the very local level.

- As of now I feel that a milder winter, warmer and drier spring and warmer drier conditions all point in favor of a good June pheasant hatch which produces the most pheasants and roosters is a given brood.

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Posted in: UGUIDE News, Pheasant Hunting in South Dakota, South Dakota Pheasant Outlook, Unguided South Dakota Pheasant Hunting, Self Guided Pheasant Hunting, Conservation, Habitat Management


Reader Comments

1 Comment on 2017 South Dakota Spring Pheasant Outlook Report


  • just returned from Bennett county last week. did see good amount of adult birds, plenty of hens but all alone without chicks. noticed on LaCreek NWR they removed trees and a fairly large shelter belt over the winter.area is very dry with a lot of fields not or just recently planted. prices for grain remain low and barely profitable for most farmers. state game production lands in area were not planted with crops yet either.plenty of grassland/nesting cover although not as high as most years but healthy cover. if the area avoids late summer hail storms the birds should do well

    dman June 26, 2017 12:00 AM

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