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Understanding the Risk's and Variabilities of Wild Pheasant Hunting

By:Chris Hitzeman–UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

Published:March 5, 2010

The winter of 2009-2010 will be one for the books.  One that will be in conversations for years to come.  Why?  From North Dakota to Wisconsin to Iowa and everywhere in-between, the snow has filled in most cover valuable to wildlife and certain to result in losses to pheasant populations across the region.

Winter conditions in South Dakota this year will certainly result in high mortality among pheasants due to lack of habitat that resulted from several winter storms filling in available winter cover.  Now this is just one factor among many that can affect the bird numbers you might see in the field the next fall.

I recently attended a seminar at Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest.  The seminar eluded to statistics about snow depth, rainfall and bird numbers.  In years when snow depth was up, bird numbers dropped (winter mortality).  In years where rainfall was up, bird numbers were down (decreased nesting success).

These are just a few of the factors that will influence what you will see in the fall on your South Dakota pheasant hunting vacation.  If you are truly looking for a “fair chase” experience, meaning no released birds in spring or fall and shooting no pen raised birds whatsoever, then you will need to understand that the truly native wild bird game is purely at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Wind the tapes back to last fall and what was the issue that hampered pheasant hunters success the most?  Standing corn!  Why?  Late fall rains, a cooler than normal August and October and just lack of adequate drying degree days to get it dried down to where farmers could get in the fields and combine it.  The bulk of the harvest did not even get going until mid-November and they estimate there is still 7% of corn crops in fields unharvested.

Not too long ago, one of the most successful UGUIDE Pheasant Camps in 2009 wasn’t so successful. One spring day a hail storm came through and virtually wiped out all their pheasants. Fortunately, pheasants are resilient and their numbers have come back to the thousands in that same area today.

In the southern parts of the state, a cool wet spring resulted in poorer than average nesting conditions. Hunting success can also result in high hen numbers and high hen to rooster ratio at the conclusion of the fall hunting season. The following year the birds are wilder in these conditions because we have banked on a good supply of educated carryover birds from the previous 1-2 winters.

So what’s the point?  Well if you own land in South Dakota for pheasant hunting, or have booked a trip well in advance of the fall season (which many hunters have found they needed to do in order to secure/retain a good spot) you will be affected by these and a host of other natural weather events. Hunters need to be aware of and understand these variables that can affect their hunting experience so they are not blindly thinking “there just aren’t any birds around”.

Now keep in mind that there are a lot of South Dakota outfitters that claim they have wild bird hunting but release a significant number of pen raised pheasants throughout the season to augment their hunters' experiences and success.  There ARE a lot of licensed preserves that have substantial populations of native wild birds but understand that there are significant numbers of pen raised birds in the mix.  There are also a large number of guided outfitters that are guiding on leased ground that is not a licensed preserve and are releasing pen raised birds into the cover you might be hunting that day.

What I am trying to get across here is that if you come to South Dakota looking for the real deal in pheasants, then also know that you will be up against the wrath of Mother Nature at one point or another.  Only the preserves and/or outfitters that release pen raised birds can change this condition.

Habitat is key and we at UGUIDE continue to build-build-build on existing habitat AND new farming practices. But, even with the best habitat, your hunting success WILL be affected by the weather.  But hey….if you are in it for the real deal (fair chase ring-necked pheasant hunting) then you know that it is all part of the experience.

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