October 9, 2011, 10:00 PM
The opening of pheasant hunting season in South Dakota is less than a week away, but Game, Fish and Parks officials are warning hunters not to get too pumped up.
That's because pheasant numbers are down, dramatically.
Pheasant hunting season in South Dakota is a big economic shot to the state's economy.
And those who enjoy the great outdoors, like Charles Robertson of Harrisburg, can't wait for the opener.
"We usually get our bag limit, everybody has a good time, we go out with about 20 guys it's a great time," Robertson said.
But wildlife officials say preseason pheasant counts are down.
"We are down 46 percent this year and 41 percent over the 10 year average," Ron Schauer of the Game Fish and Parks said.
Schauer says last winter was harsh on broods and a wet spring was equally tough on nesting season. And he says there isn't as much cover as there use to be in years past.
Schauer estimates the state is losing 100 thousand acres of habitat a year because farmers are putting their CRP land back into production.
"Look at the commodity prices, they're record numbers and basically the CRP payments have not kept up with commodity payments and it's the bottom line to farmers doing what they have to do to survive," Schauer said.
Despite those projections from the Game, Fish and Parks, some hunters we talked with still feel like they are going to have a lot of success.
Andy Nolz and Jordan Carlson of Garretson are doing a little window shopping before the big opener. They feel optimistic about the season.
"I think it's going to be way better than last year, everything is dried up it's going to be easier to flush them out and it's going to be a lot easier walking," Carlson said.
"They're knocking down all the crop and everything is all dried up, so we'll get more shooting and more pheasants will fly up instead of them staying down all the time, hoping it's going to be a good year," Nolz said.
Wildlife officials have also seen something *unusual this year that could be a plus for hunters.
"We have noticed some re-nesting, late re-nesting which we are seeing birds out there now that are five, six, seven, eight and nine weeks old, they weren't even born when we did our survey, which will boost our numbers a little bit," Schauer said. "But hunters also have to be aware they won't be fully developed and might not have the colors normally we're used to seeing in a fully mature rooster, so they might want to be careful, because there'll be some young birds out there, but as the season progresses, they'll mature and they'll be available for the hunters too."
So hunters, don't get your feathers too ruffled just yet, because this is South Dakota, pheasant capital of the world.
"You can talk to anybody and South Dakota, even though we are down, we're still the best place to come for pheasants," Schauer said.
The pheasant hunting season begins Saturday at noon. Game fish and parks officials want to remind hunters to stay safe and wear blaze orange.