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2019 Pheasant Season End Conclusions - Final Report

February 04, 2020 by


The quick and dirty conclusion is simply that if the known bird producing habitat (CRP) is not expanded greatly, the forecasts and trends will continue.  Namely for South Dakota, this means that CRP enrollment will need to rise from its current less than 1 million acres to its former greater than 1.5 million acres.  How this ties to the GFP annual survey is it would mean a possible rise from its current 2 birds per mile counts to its former 8 birds per mile results in the 2007 era when CRP enrollment was much higher.

The good news is that there is a new CRP signup going on right now nationwide and will close on Feb. 28.  Between now and 2003 the new farm bill is targeted to get CRP enrollment 3 million acres higher than the previous farm bill.  The bad news is that the current incentives associated with CRP contracts are poor compared to previous enrollments therefore interest in signing up acres can be expected to be lower.  The budget for overall CRP is limited to the former budgeted farm bill so you can imagine what can happen when you expand enrollment by 3 million acres.  Yes, you dilute the incentives per acre.  Simple math.

So what are some of the easy things to tell from the current 2 PPM (Pheasants Per Mile) count days?  Poor road hunting due to lower production on private land.  Poorer results on public lands due to the same reason.  I find it interesting how bird production can decline so much when public lands never really change at all as related to CRP and farm bills (meaning the acre amounts of public never change).

Across all UGUIDE Pheasant Camps we experienced the following Harvest Birds Per Person (HBPP) averages for the last 4 years/seasons:

2016 – 2.1

2017 – 1.3

2018 – 1.6

2019 - 1.6  (that amounts to 48.7 birds per group/camp/week)

The more we do this (UGUIDE) the more I realize how dependent our fair chase system is on mother nature.  Maybe as much as 50% or more?  This year 4 million acres of cropland did not get planted in the state.  Crop harvest was one of the latest on record.  Most crops did not have enough growing days to finish the growth cycle of its crop.  The moisture levels, at least at our part of state, have seen amounts as high as 50 inches/year for the last 2 years where the norm is usually 20 inches.


1.  The phenomenon this year was that we had some camps experience record high pheasant harvest numbers one week and then record low numbers a couple weeks later.  We also had a big mid season slump which you can still see in our open spots for 2020 (weeks 3-6 time frame).  It seemed like all birds at all of our camps were fully educated by week 3 and were seemingly pressured off property resulting in extremely low harvest numbers and poor re-booking of those premium slots in our schedule.  Fair weather and the record slow crop harvest were believed to be some of the key contributors.

2. As the season progressed, the crop harvest did not in many areas.  Many farmers were still harvesting crop over New Years and much of the crop was snowed in after that (which should benefit wildlife you would think).

3. 4 million acres of cropland did not get planted to a grain crop in SD.  Some acres were planted to cover crops but most were just sprayed with herbicide to control weeds.  These acres are called "Prevent Plant" in crop insurance terms.  These acres could benefit wildlife as well due to the early successional nature of the cover types found on the unplanted semi-weedy landscape.

4.  2017-2018 will go down as some of the wettest years on record.

5.  Quality of habitat was good as most of the state experienced adequate rainfall.  I would certainly still take extreme wet years over extreme drought years.

6.  We once again had issues with our food plots related to the seed we had sourced from Pheasants Forever.  As you may know, none of the Corn Belt had enough growing days to finish their crops to maturity.  That was a national weather epidemic.  To that end, we can still take measures to adjust for this and we are now sourcing much shorter day growing maturity corn and milo for our food plots.  We are also sourcing a higher quality seed and paying a little more for it hoping it makes a huge impact as food plots are an important part of what we do and what guests experience.  We are also working on improved fertility and weed control in plots as well, similar to practices used in production grain systems.  Only makes sense.

7. We find that when harvest numbers are in the 1-2 bird per person range it really exposes the skill levels of the groups dramatically.  You can reason that it is also why road hunting and public lands hunting is so much better when those on our private lands average limits per person.  There is just that many more birds to be had.  The moral is that birds can be had if the skill levels are sufficient within the group.



The bottom line is that the state needs to see CRP enrollment north of 1.5 million acres to get back to "The Good Ole days" of pheasant hunting.  It's possible it may take more than that as a result of modern farming practices and all the chemicals used in those practices (lots of unknowns there).   It takes acres, acres, acres and yes more acres to produce pheasants and this should come as no surprise.  Don't get sidetracked with predator control, releasing birds, surrogators, shooting hawks, etc, etc, etc.

It should come as no surprise that tourism, license sales, poor hunter turnout, declining outfitter numbers and reduced tourism spending (from hunters) is what is currently being experienced.

Many outfitters wanting to remain in the business have chosen to supplement birds.  UGUIDE will always remain in the naturally produced (Fair Chase) pheasant business.

Duplicate Comment from 2018 Final Report:  Some longtime customers will leave UGUIDE camps with excellent habitat in search of better bird numbers which supports why many outfitters in the state, outside of the UGUIDE system, are left with no choice but to supplement with raised pheasants or go out of business.  Historically many in this business were dependent on what was produced on adjoining landscape acres and pulled into their acres through the establishment of high quality habitat acres.

The new farm bill CRP signup is underway and the net gains will not be fully seen for the next 2-3 years.  We have offered up a new 100 acres on our own farm to do our part.  We are also implementing 2 new 13 row shelterbelts in an effort to mitigate some of the extreme winter weather impacts like we are seeing with our current winter this year.

For sure there is no question that agriculture and pheasants go hand in hand.  When mismanaged and out of balance, not only pheasants, but much wildlife will suffer.  The case that the state of South Dakota has mismanaged its historically unique commodity (ring-necked pheasants) could easily be made.  Gov. Noem may change the course with the new Century Initiative (next 100 years) and we will know the impacts in the next decade.  Pheasants propagate quickly!

NOTE:  This January, UGUIDE was awarded "South Dakota Conservationist of the Year" at the South Dakota Pheasants Forever Annual Meeting.  Thank you Pheasants Forever!

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