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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 and Iowa and everywhere in between the snow has filled in most cover valuable to wildlife 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 due to 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 was recently at a seminar at the Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest Seminar.  The seminar eluded to statistics about snow depth and rainfall and bird numbers.  In years when snow depth was up, birds numbers dropped (winter mortaility).  In years where rainfall was up bird numbers were down (decreased nesting success).

These are just a few of the factors that will result in 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, cooler than normal August and October and just lack of adequate drying degree days to finish corn crop off and get it dried down to where farmers could get in the field sand combine it.  The bulk of the harvest did not even get going until mid November and they estimate there is still 7% of corn crop in fields unharvested.

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

In the southern parts of the state, cool wet springs have resulted in poorer than average nesting conditions and success resulting in high hen numbers and high hen to rooster ratio in the fall.  Birds are wilder in these conditions because we have banked on a good supply of carryover birds from the previous 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 that can affect your hunting experience and you should be aware of them and understand them so you 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 outfits 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 with even 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 ringneck pheasant hunting) then you know that is all part of the experience.

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