CUSTER, S.D. (KELO) — More pheasant hunters bought licenses for South Dakota’s season last year, but they didn’t bag as many birds as hunters had two seasons ago, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission learned Friday.

The official estimated harvest was 1,067,423, according to Chad Switzer, a state Division of Wildlife administrator. He said that was a 3.7% decline but still likely led the nation.

Switzer credited more aggressive marketing outside South Dakota for helping increase the number of nonresident hunters. He said resident and nonresident hunters totaled 130,017 in the field, a 7% increase.

More hunters drove down the average harvest to just over eight birds per hunter, a decline of nearly 10%.

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The most hunting success came the first two months of the season. Hunters took 38% of the roosters in October and 34% in November, followed by 18% in December and 10% in January.

The department stopped doing its pre-season roadside survey in 2020. Switzer said the department still produced a “pretty sound” forecast for hunters that hinted “pretty strongly” that South Dakota had experienced a severe drought.

“We’re pretty pleased with being able to stabilize or slightly increase the hunters coming here,” Switzer told the commission. “Not where we were 10, 15 years ago, but still a pretty strong pheasant harvest.”

GFP can’t control the weather but the department’s top priority is habitat and access, according to Switzer.

“That was a great report,” commission chairman Doug Sharp of Watertown said. “Just wanted to see the numbers (of hunters) go up from 2019.”

GFP Secretary Kevin Robling said the department is participating in an Iowa State University study on factors such as dew that potentially could affect pheasant detection.

The department for decades had staff drive predetermined routes in August after new birds had hatched. Their counts were assembled into the pre-season brood estimates that the department publicly distributed.

“We will not be running the brood survey this year,” Robling said.

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