Numbers that can make or break South Dakota’s claim as pheasant capital Original
KELO Pheasant

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Pheasant hunting is a big deal in South Dakota, so when the number of hunters decreases, officials notice.

Resident pheasant hunters spend $112,141,308 in South Dakota, according to a 2017 report by the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department. Non-resident hunters contribute $175,220,529 for a total of $287,361,837. Overall, spending by all hunters is $683 million of the $1.3 billion generated by outdoor activity participants (state park visitors, anglers, etc.) in the state.

But the number of resident and non-resident pheasant hunters has decreased since 2010 when it hit 172,654. It was down to 150,036 in 2015 and 111,204 in 2019, according to the GFP.

The decreases have been enough to prompt the South Dakota GFP commission to adopt a new strategy in marketing pheasant hunting. A work plan was developed for new marketing strategies that included a move from sharing the pheasant count, or brood survey, each year.

An executive summary of the Pheasant Hunting Marketing Workgroup and Plan contained on the GFP website said that commissioners and work group members supported a change.

“Commissioners and workgroup members actively supported a change to reporting the
statewide pheasant per mile index to ensure that South Dakota is not unintentionally deterring
hunters from coming to our state based on the media headlines reporting of low bird numbers,” the summary said.

The state had been releasing pheasant counts each year before the season started. The reports included the estimated brood counts, percentages of increases or decreases from the prior year, and the number of bird per mile. As of this year, the brood count survey has been suspended.

Annual data on brood count numbers, the number of hunters and pheasants harvested shows there is some relationship between all three.

Take a look at some of the hunter numbers in years when the GFP released some high brood counts.

The GFP data shows that in 2015, the total number of pheasant hunters was 150,036 with 65,135 resident hunters and 84,901 non-resident hunters.

The GFP reported before the season started that pheasant numbers were up by 42% over 2014.

In 2014, there were 61,776 resident pheasant hunters and a total of 140,971 hunters.

The GFP reported 2013 pheasant brood survey decreased by 64% from 4.19 to 1.52 pheasants per mile compared to the 2012 index. In comparison to the 10-year average, 2013 index was 76% lower than the 10-year average of 6.23 pheasants per mile.

There were 57,647 resident hunters in 2013 and 69,240 when bird counts were higher in 2012.

But there are likely other factors impacting the number of pheasant hunters in South Dakota.

GFP numbers show that the number of resident hunters swelled to 102,300 in 1983 and have never reached that level again. The state hit 91,000 resident hunters in 1991, 84,000 in 1999 but hasn’t top 80,00 since then.

So, it appears that there is more than bird counts contributing to the number of resident pheasant hunters in South Dakota.

Hunting numbers across the country have been in an overall decline since 1991 when 14.1 million people hunted to 11.1 million in 2016, according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

South Dakota has long been known as a pheasant capital. It’s been consistently listed by hunting organizations and publications as one of the top places to hunt pheasants in the U.S.

But other states have apparently stepped up their pheasant hunting game to attract more hunters.

Nebraska Game and Parks implemented in 2016 the Berggren Plan for Pheasants to improve the pheasant hunting experience by increasing habitat and public access opportunities within several priority areas located throughout the state. 

The plan calls for spending $6 million each year to improve habitat and public access, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Department. The plan includes $24.6 million for habitat management over five years and $3.5 million for access.

A story published by the North Dakota Game and Fish department in October 2017 discussed the state’s partnership with Pheasants Forever to work with farmers on developing crops and sites that would benefit wildlife including pheasants.

A blog on the Rustic Freedom website about bird hunting, including pheasants, ranked Montana first, followed by South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska in fourth place.

An Oct. 17, 2017, story published by Realtree on its website ranked Kansas first for pheasant hunting and South Dakota second. While South Dakota was second in the story, the writer said it still ruled pheasant hunting but tough winters and drought conditions negatively impact pheasant hunting in 2017.

South Dakota made the top five in top five states for the “Ultimate Pheasant Hunting Trip,” according the Kansas was first followed by Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and then, South Dakota.

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