SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota declared the pheasant its state bird in 1943.
From that declaration on, South Dakota started a more concentrated effort to attract pheasant hunters, according to the South Dakota State Historical Society Foundation.
With the declaration of the pheasant as the state bird. “Thus, South Dakota became a state that extensively promotes the killing and eating of an official symbol,” said a fall 2013 story published by the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation.
The state symbol apparently didn’t mind the promotion. The state’s pheasant population grew to a record 16 million in 1945, according to the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department.
Among the non residents who have hunted pheasants in South Dakota are actor Clark Gable, Hall of Fame Baseball player Ty Cobb and former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.
South Dakota itself and the city of Redfield have claimed to be the Pheasant Capitals of the World. The Redfield area in Spink County is where historians say pheasants were released in the state in 1909. Redfield is all where Hank Aaron, another Hall of Fame baseball player, hunted pheasants.
According to David Schoenfield’s column in the May/June 2015 issue of South Dakota Magazine, Aaron also conducted a baseball clinic for residents at a local state hospital and school.
Over the years, South Dakota has been a host to hundreds of thousands of non resident hunters.
Those visiting pheasant hunters spend more than $175 million annually, according to the state of South Dakota. All hunters, including pheasant hunters, spend a total of $683 million annually in the state, according to the GFP.
For the past 27 years, Experience Sioux Falls, formerly the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau has greeted non resident hunters at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.
Non resident hunters also land at smaller airports in South Dakota. Parkston and Winner are two such airports.
The two airports will receive a combined $1.2 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants for improvements at their airports. Officials from both airports said in a Feb. 20 KELOLAND.com original news story that pheasant hunters and general hunters made up a big portion of their air traffic.
From 1948 to 1963 non resident hunters numbers swelled from 26,000 to 68,000. Resident numbers grew from 123,000 to 144,000. From 1963 to 2001, numbers dipped and rose because of a number of factors including weather, changes in habitat land, and low pheasant counts, according to GFP figures and reports and media reports.
And while non resident licenses generally increased during those years, resident licenses were ahead of those numbers.
But that shifted in 2002 when 74,873 non resident hunters got licenses and 70,821 residents did, according to the GFP.
The shift in who gets licenses isn’t the only one. The number of non resident licenses has generally dropped since 2010.
It’s been 10 years since 100,000 out of state residents got licenses to hunt pheasants in South Dakota, according to GFP. The state had 100,189 non resident hunters. From 2004 to 2009, the state had at least 91,000 non resident hunters.
South Dakota had 63,801 in 2019, 69,018 in 2018, and 67,232 in 2017. There were 95,077 in 2011, 93,801 in 2012 and 81,141 in 2016.
GFP official Tom Kirschenmann said in an Oct. 14 KELOLAND News story by Don Jorgenson that “What we are seeing right now at least from existing license sales for both residents and non-residents those numbers are up right now compared to last year at this time, so that’s really encouraging to see.”
Although the coronavirus did cause some cancelations, Kirschenmann expected more non resident hunting licenses to be sold this week.