SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Starting Saturday, a new group of young hunters can get his or her first taste of South Dakota’s pheasant hunting.
The youth pheasant hunting season starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and goes until Sunday, Oct. 3. It’s the second year in a row hunters ages 12 to 17 get two weekends of birds all for themselves.
While the traditional pheasant opener gets most of the attention, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department Communications Director Nick Harrington said people shouldn’t overlook the youth season.
“This is that unique opportunity to really get those new hunters out in the field,” Harrington said. “It’s a slower hunt. The birds haven’t been touched yet. There’s nobody else out competing. This is really that opportunity to introduce you, in a safe environment and a controlled environment.”
The nine-day, youth-only hunting season started in 2020 after a Jones County 13-year-old Savanah Hendricks petitioned the GFP board to give younger hunters two weekends for themselves.
Harrington noted the fall months are a busy time with school activities, fall activities, sports and clubs all happening. He said the youth-only hunts are a “special weekend” and the best way to introduce first-time hunters into the sport.
“Hunting is about tradition. It’s about family. It’s about friends. It’s about memories,” he said. “There’s really no better way than to have a fall day than out in the fields.”
To participate, Harrington said young hunters both South Dakota residents and nonresidents need to purchase and carry a youth small game license or a nonresident youth small game license. Hunters ages 12 to 15 need a hunter safety certificate and be accompanied by a parent or guardian to purchase a license.
Harrington said interested hunters can take an online hunter’s safety course or sign-up for an in-person class. Details are on the GFP website.
“Pheasant hunting is an exciting sport, a quick sport, so having safety at the top of mind is key,” Harrington said. “We want safety and we want to get a whole bunch of new hunters out there this fall.”
The GFP also offers “mentored hunting” which allows any child 15-years-old or younger out in the field along with an unarmed parent, guardian or designated mentor who is at least 18.
Nearly 4,000 youth hunting licenses sold in 2020
As of Wednesday, Harrington said 1,416 resident youth small game hunting licenses have been sold in 2021. He said the sample size is small, but that number is up 26% from the three-year average for the same time period.
Last year, nearly 4,000 resident youth small game hunting licenses were sold, which was above the latest three-year average of 3,701.
In addition, nonresident youth small game hunting licenses totaled 1,909 in 2020. There’s been 289 nonresident youth small game hunting licenses sold so far this year, which Harrington said is 63% above the three-year average.
“The future is good. That’s exactly what we want,” Harrington said about the 2020 numbers. “It’s about passing on what we love to do with our youth.”
A new law passed in 2021 will qualify anyone under the age 18 for youth hunting, fishing and trapping.
The COVID-19 pandemic and various indoor restrictions brought a bump in outdoor activities from fishing, camping and hiking. Harrington said GFP officials hope to see people’s engagement with nature continue.
“We’re going to have hopefully 4,000 to 6,000 new hunters out in the field this fall,” Harrington said. “That’s great for growing our sport overall.”