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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 travel 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 their 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 for 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 come out and go back in, their quality assurance is much higher because of new requirements for seeding plans, diversity and management going forward. In short, the habitat going forward is much more optimized 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 there 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 set up for a stronger hatch than last year.  However, drought conditions have now persisted in much of the Dakotas 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 with 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 on local weather, local outfitter and local property reports and data.  Variability factors at the very local level is what impacts pheasants. 

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

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Posted in: News, Pheasant Outlook, Conservation, Habitat Management

Reader Comments

4 Comments 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

  • I have lived on this farm now for 80 years. This is the first time I have not seen one brood of pheasant chicks on our 2500 acres this summer so I am alarmed as we have food plots and good habitat, CRP and trees and all. Something is going on that is not normal. Just wondering. Harvey

    Harvey Wollmanq August 22, 2017 12:00 AM

  • To Harvey's comments, thanks for all your effort to provide good habitat and your concern with why you are not see many pheasants. Do see many predators such as skunks and raccoons? Do you have trappers available to help control their populations? I'm very concerned too and want to take my son hunting this fall but I'm not encouraged to hear the over all state numbers are way down this year.

    Paul Thrash August 25, 2017 12:00 AM

  • As an out of state hunter who has visited SD many times I do give the state survey a great deal of weight. I hunt public land/CRP and I've found the survey numbers to be a fair representation of the population - I'm even surprised with the effect on SD's economy that they published such a stark decline from last year - which was not that good. I hunt alone and make a point of talking to other hunters whenever I can as an informal survey and from my non-scientific sampling, their experiences tend to mirror my own. Sure, even on not so good years I've run into pockets of birds and got a beautiful double last year after not seeing any birds all afternoon, but I met some folks from Alabama who got skunked entirely hunting in an area where I've always had good luck. The state survey sets the odds - you may do better or you may do worse.

    Marco Solo October 20, 2017 12:10 PM

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