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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Discontinues its Annual Brood Count Survey

June 06, 2020 by

The report is 70 years running, released around Labor Day, and gets residents and nonresidents talking about the upcoming season. It shares scientific data and compares a pheasant-per-mile index for multiple regions throughout South Dakota along with a statewide snapshot of the bird population.

Multiple officials said the report has no impact on what they called the “biological side,” meaning how they set bird limits or season hunting dates.

GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler made the recommendation during Thursday’s regular commission meeting to discontinue the brood routes. The top GF&P official also suggested there be no public comment on the matter and that the commissioners allow the department to halt the survey beginning this year.

The decision comes on the heels of months-long work from a GF&P-formed pheasant hunting marketing work group that’s planning to spend thousands of dollars in hopes of increasing small game license sales by 10% over the next three years.

“We’re ready to invest a lot of money to try very aggressive, scientific-based marketing,” Hepler said during the video conference meeting. “Does that survey, will it enhance or take away from that marketing campaign? I asked that question and the answer I got back from the marketing team is it takes away from that campaign.

“So you remove the biological side and you remove the marketing side of this, and so then the question really becomes what really is the purpose of it? There are probably some purposes out there, but it becomes more nice to know than need to know.”

In an email to department staff Wednesday, Hepler pointed out the “strong correlation between the statewide pheasants per mile index and both resident and nonresident pheasant license sales, which is concerning when the PPM index declines.” He noted that in 2010, South Dakota brought in more than 100,000 nonresident pheasant hunters compared to approximately 63,000 last year.

GF&P estimates that the survey ran about $80,000 to $90,000 annually to cover staff and mileage costs. The department said all wildlife surveys are now being assessed and that GF&P will not directly monitor the pheasant population moving forward.

Three GF&P commissioners voiced their support to discontinue the survey and do it without public commentary.

“A lot of times the public thinks the public commentary portion is a vote, where the yays win and the nays don’t so to speak, when in fact it’s just additional information,” said Commissioner Doug Sharp, of Watertown.

Added Commissioner Russell Olson, of Wentworth: “We’re running a business here, and we have to remember that. A lot of that business relies on travelers into the state.”

Earlier this year, GF&P formed the marketing work group to evaluate survey data collection, reporting and messaging that could mitigate loss of license sales when the pheasant population declines. It chose specific areas in which to allocate advertising dollars and will, through the joint effort of GF&P and the South Dakota Department of Tourism, spend $700,000 in its first year of work, which begins later this month.

In its key point indicators shared with the commission on Thursday, officials said they hope to:

  • Increase GF&P website traffic by 10%.
  • Increase subscribers to GF&P’s platforms such as online and magazines by 15%.
  • Increase GF&P’s social following by 10%.
  • Increase small game license sales by 10% on the third year of the initiative.

The group met in February, April and May and set multiple recommendations to achieve its objective. While looking specifically at the brood count survey in May, the group recommended to alter but not discontinue the brood count survey. The group recommended to replace the old local area approach (13 areas) with approximately six reporting regions and include measures of variability.

“When the pheasant brood report and associated press release are revealed to the public each year, the overall change in the statewide PPM is the dominant headline reported by media outlets,” the work group said in its report. “The news headline often dictates hunter (or potential hunters) expectations, although regions of the pheasant range may have exhibited a much different population trajectory than the statewide PPM change.

“Simply not reporting the statewide PPM and focusing on regional PPM messaging could be an approach, but we would need to be prepared to proactively justify the action. The media and hunters are used to seeing ‘the number,’ so some backlash is likely inevitable.”

Another notable change the marketing work group is recommending is to increase the bag limit from three to four pheasants late in the season, and to establish a 10 a.m. start time as the beginning of shooting hours for the entire season.

South Dakota’s traditional pheasant season begins Oct. 17 and runs through Jan. 3. It is estimated that residents ($80.2 million) and nonresidents ($138 million) combined to spend $218 million on pheasant hunting in 2018.

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Posted in: News, SD GFP News, Pheasant Outlook, Pheasant Harvest Report, Conservation


Reader Comments

5 Comments on South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Discontinues its Annual Brood Count Survey


  • 700,000 over a 3 year period = $2,100,000. That money would be better spent acquiring more habitat or improving existing habitat. Spending that money on advertising is nonsense!

    Dave Kestler June 7, 2020 12:06 PM

  • It seems like the problem is being covered up, in order to get hunters to buy licenses and spend money, when really the birds are not there anymore. We did a trip in November of 2019 through South Dakota. We stopped in Mott, that was once a pheasant Mecca. The locals said the pheasant were GONE. We ate in a nice place and they told us that you use to be unable to get to the bar during this time of year (Early Nov 2019). There was nobody in the place. We went too Huron where we use to have awesome hunting. The farmer said the same thing. The birds are gone. We went to Winner SD. They said the same thing. The birds are gone. This retired farmer said he had seen the pheasants survive all weather conditions. He said he thinks that some type of SPRAY is being used and destroying to pheasants. I think an investigation needs to take place to look into this. Hopefully this isalreadymtaking place? I doubt it though. Politics again? Lobbyist? The cancelation of the spring bird count is to con the out of state hunters to come to South Dakota and spend money when the Pheasants are GONE. It is just SAD. Don’t lie to hunters. If the birds are gone tell them. Above all, investigate why THE BIRDS ARE GONE and fix it! Sincerely Randy Sawyer Glenwood Springs Colorado.

    Randy Sawyer June 9, 2020 12:06 PM

  • Every year we look forward to the bird count information and I agree seems like a cover up for 2020. Out of state hunters need this information to plan hunts. We have been going to SD for 25 years, the last couple of years have been way down, but we still came and found a few good spots in 2019. Advertising false information will upset hunters that have to travel--we come from Michigan and one year we has state reports from Kansas that the birds were good only to find out it was terrible- been 8 years will not go back to states that provide no information..in the long run this could really hurt South Dakota--please tell the truth on the bird count and let us decide--

    Mike Arcari June 26, 2020 12:06 PM

  • I quit putting any belief in the count awhile ago as it has seemed “off” for years. In 2019 for instance, an area that looked bird less according to the count had birds everywhere, but also didn’t have many places to spend out of state money. Coincidence probably. Until you notice it year after year. It’s no secret the 10 year state wide bird numbers are down. And the count probably encourages or deters the new comers or the casual hunters which make up a good percentage of the revenue. But it would be criminal to use the money saved for anything other than farmer incentives and/or putting the money back into bird habitat. Forget advertising!! If you have a good product you don’t need to advertise.

    James Bechtel June 29, 2020 12:06 PM

  • The discontinuing of the count is terrible. I agree completely that there should be a truthful count as well as the formula used for winter weather and nesting/hatching weather to help an accurate prediction. The comment that yearly 700,000 dollars should be used for habitat improvement and farmer incentives instead of advertising is spot on.

    Bob Mott July 3, 2020 12:07 PM

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