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2019 UGUIDE South Dakota Fall Pheasant Hunting Outlook Forecast Report

July 03, 2019 by

A lot that is going to determine your pheasant season this fall has already happened by the time you get to the 4th of July.

If you farm for pheasants, you better have your food plots and other habitat in the ground because planting season is coming to a close.  Once the weeds set seed in late June, the best hatch window is upon us.  Usually this peaks on June 10th, but this year it looks like a week or two later which is no problem in my book.

I came across the nest in the article picture shortly after Memorial Day this spring.  21 eggs.  There was a hen pheasant tending it at the time.  The cover grew so thick around it that I lost sight/track of it and will not be able to tell what hatched out.

This year it seems the first brood sightings are later than normal which might indicate the impact of a late spring and a slower start to initial nest building.  However, recent brood sightings have produced sightings of broods in the 8+ range which is very good.  These birds were 3-4 weeks old at the time indicating hatches well before Memorial day.  While planting food plots recently, I did see plenty of new fuzzballs as well.

In the drought year of 2016, we were only seeing hens with 2-3 chicks in their broods.  Last year it was more normal to see the 8+ range.  Season harvest reports supported that a good hatch was had last year.  While our west farm enjoyed groups taking limits last year, our east farm did not produce the same.  Both farms are within 6 miles of each other.  This supports the fact that there is no one predictor of bird numbers in your local pheasant hunting area.  The state road counts have proven to be a good predictor of average bird numbers across the state but a terrible predictor of pheasant numbers in very local areas.  I know for a fact that there are areas where the birds can be off the charts and yet the state reports would say just the opposite.  The reason for this is the limited amount of survey routes and methods the state has used since the beginning of pheasant hunts in South Dakota.

Overall, one can look at the fact that the state is still at some of its lowest habitat acres enrollment as far as federal programs are concerned.  If you think about it, state and federal public access acres as well as public walk-in acres have remained unchanged, for the large part, over the last decade.  Even longer than that actually.  It is the private land enrolled in conservation programs that has impacted total bird numbers the most significantly.

I have seen no recent data to suggest that habitat acres have increased this year over last but there are plenty of irons in the fire to impact that in the next few years.  Usually any news on that front would lag about a year anyways and that is why it's difficult to predict what you will see this fall.  Here's some of the recent events that will impact bird producing habitat:

- The new farm bill is authorized and enrollment to get from the current 24 million acre national cap to the new 27 million acre cap has begun.  South Dakota would like to get from 900K enrolled acres to 1.5 million or better.

- The first general signup for the new farm bill is planned for this December. New acres would be planted spring of 2020.

- Payment rates are significantly lower on CRP than in previous periods which will impact initial interest and enrollment in the short run.

- Landowner economics are tight due to tariffs and low grain prices as well as recent grain supplies and over production causing more possible interest in federal programs enrollment.

- Cattle production has been better than cash grain and thus many acres that were converted from grass to grain crops back in the $7 corn days (2007-2013?) are now being converted back to grass.  This was 7 million acres that did not show up on the private lands CRP acres or any state or federal public lands acres.

-  This year's wet spring will leave many many acres unplanted in affected areas and these fallow undisturbed weedy areas could benefit nesting wildlife greatly.  I also found a nest with 13 eggs in one of my bare ground food plots.  Seeing that and last year's nest with trail came photos on fallow ground support this potential.

- Governor Noem and the state of South Dakota have launched a multitude of programs to impact pheasant numbers from predator bounty programs to state funded new habitat programs.  This effort continues to grow and more info can be found here on the Habitat Pays Website.

- Related to the above, many of the new programs are ineligible to private land outfitters due to SD state law.  As such, millions of dollars of private general state revenue from licenses and sales tax is unavailable to go back into the private land acres in habitat investments to the very people who are the most serious about doing the work.  Make sense? No!  Until they get this law fixed and the state can work with private landowners who receive private funding sources, there will be issues.

In summary, you will see brood count reports come out around Labor Day, by the state, that will support modest gains or declines in overall state bird numbers because we have had a cold wet spring but warm moist June.  Very similar to last year.  I would take these conditions any year as compared to the impactful drought conditions we had in 2016.  In 2016 we were down a whole bird per person, as far as fair chase pheasants, that went in the game bag.  Last year we were up half a bird.  It is certainly possible we could gain another half bird per person.  Anymore we really only know for sure in December when all our harvest reports are tallied.  Keep your fingers crossed!