HURON, SD -
Estimates show a 64 percent drop from last year in the state's pheasant population. That's from roadside survey results released by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks in August. But Huron hunter Kent Shelton says he was happy when he went hunting during the resident opener.
"Yeah and the people I talked with all were pleasantly surprised that on the public land they hunted around the Huron area that they saw more birds than they thought they would," Shelton said.
According to the Game Fish and Parks estimates, the Huron area should have about half the birds this year that it did last year.
"You know, last year the numbers they alleged were up a little bit. I would have guessed they were down. This year they said we were way down. I'm guessing we're not down as far as they thought they were," Shelton said.
As he welcomed hunters at the Aberdeen airport, Casey Weismantel with the Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau figured there might be more pheasants than estimated as well.
The Aberdeen Hotel Alliance sponsors a promotion that requires workers to release 100 pheasants throughout the area with bands on them.
"I did do the drop off for the million dollar bird promotion, drove around Brown County and I saw a ton of pheasants out there when I was doing it," Weismantel said.
Game Fish and Parks won't have a clear picture on this year's hunting season until they receive offical numbers of harvested birds.
In the GF&P Huron office, game biologist Travis Runia says officers ran another survey to count pheasants a month after their first one this summer. With a late spring getting everything off to a slow start this year, he thought the later survey might show more birds.
"And we didn't see a substantial change in our survey indices during that time period," Runia said.
Runia says the birds have less habitat. There's less native prairie in South Dakota than there used to be. And the number of acres in CRP, which is a federal program paying landowners to set land aside for conservation, has dropped steadily in the state since 2007.
That concerns him, he says, with estimated pheasant numbers lower than they've been in years.
"We could not get to where we are right now with this 25-year low just on habitat losses alone," Runia said.
A couple harsh winters in recent years, last year's drought and this year's late spring have all been factors.
This severe weather in June that combined large hail and damaging winds dished an additional blow to pheasants around the Spink and Beadle County lines.
Still, even Runia who's been seeing less than impressive figures come across his desk, didn't see bad numbers when he went to the field to hunt himself. He knows there will be some places better than others throughout the hunting season.
Shelton says the same.
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