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2019 UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Outlook Forecast Brood Count Survey Report

August 06, 2019 by

As we come to the end of the main window of pheasant production we begin to search for signs of optimism towards fall.  You may recall the brood report we gave last as it aligned with the annual clipping of our farms firebreaks.  At that time in early July 2018 we witnessed good bird numbers on our west place and not so good on the east farm.  Those indicators held true as we went through the season.

Even though last years clipping was 4 weeks after the main June 10th peak hatch time I was still encountering numerous newly hatched birds that could barely fly if at all.  From that information this years clipping of our 50+ acres of alfalfa firebreaks was pushed back until Aug. 5.  That's 25 days later than in 2018.  Clearly we are seeing much larger birds as of this years clipping.  You may recall I employ a flushing bar on the front of the tractor that really does an outstanding job of getting any game in the area up and moving even if it is not in the direct path of the mower.

Recently my wife and I took a trip from the south central part of South Dakota, where our farm is located, up through central North Dakota and on over west and then back down through western South Dakota.  All was green and growing abundantly.  Certainly no sign of any drought in either state and thats good news considering how harsh the drought impacts were in 2017.

In drought years the cover suffers and sometimes does not produce enough bird holding vegetation.   That will certainly not be the case anywhere in SD.  For us it was a brutal end to winter with and April 15th blizzard and rainfall amounts no living soul had ever seen.  Apparently the Lake Andes Refuge is currently at 1915 lake levels.  75% of the fields around us were not able to be planted to crops.

I would say this about that.  I will again take this year over that 2017 drought year any day.  We got bugs and we got cover.  The fallow unplanted grain fields are excellent undisturbed nesting cover and may be one reason I am not seeing as many birds during this years mowing.  Another may be these older birds are able to flee my equipment far in advance of my arrival.

I have been seeing birds since the first week of June.  Most likely nesting was pushed back 1-3 weeks due to inclement weather in April-May.  However, flooded nests were probably not an issue because all the water tables were up early and would have forced all nesting birds to the highest ground.

The size of broods was good again this year unlike 2017.  Many more broods with 8+ birds have been seen and very few with 2-3 birds.  This also indicates a stronger early hatch (June).

The Game Fish and Parks are conducting road counts at this time and will release results around Labor Day.  Dew levels in the morning should be good and I expect an increase in overall numbers.  Is seems the state counts are a good indicator of statewide numbers but terrible at directing hunters to local areas that have good numbers.  Good cover and mother nature is what produces birds.

The state is still suffering from the cover loss hangover of the $8 corn days several years back.  While the new farmbill hits the ground the new acres have not.  The number of unplanted acres in the state may have a bigger impact this year than new CRP plantings.  Nationwide nearly 12 million acres went unplanted in the corn belt.  Historic is an understatement.  Weedy undisturbed crop stubble may be the game changer in 2019.  But until the state gets back to its CRP enrollment of 1.5 million + acres it does not seem reasonable to think we will get back to the high numbers of the 10 year trend.

In summary, if cover=birds, like it did in 2018 then birds should be on the rise.  The more I do this the more I am not sure but I know in December we will know for certain after hunters come to do their harvesting.