Nonresident pheasant hunters dropped to modern low in South Dakota for 2020 season

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Last season, South Dakota hosted the fewest nonresident pheasant hunters since 1998, according to data from the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.

The 62,289 nonresidents marked the continuation of a downward trend the past decade. Nonresidents bought 100,189 licenses in 2010. By 2019 the number had slowly fallen to 63,801.

By comparison, residents purchased 59,042 pheasant licenses last year. That was up from 47,403 in 2019. Resident sales had fallen steadily in recent decades. They totaled 84,342 in 1999.

GFP, its Wildlife Division and the state Department of Tourism highlighted their combined pheasant marketing efforts Thursday to the Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

GFP’s Emily Kiel said the three-year plan that spent $662,000 last year aimed at increasing resident and nonresident participation. The 2020 message, she said, was that South Dakota was open and a safe place to recreate, while 2021 will focus on retention.

Primary markets this year are Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado, with some emphasis also on Michigan and Texas.

Kiel said there will be a partnership this fall for Minnesota Vikings games and talks are under way for South Dakota State University football. A new focus this year will be women in the 25-54 age group.

Communications director Nick Harrington said a pheasant outlook mailer went out in June. “We want to make sure folks know we’re here to hunt,” Harrington said.

The additional January hunting weeks led to hunters taking an estimated 27,000 roosters, according to Harrington. They were part of the overall estimated harvest of of more than 1.1 million birds.

State wildlife director Tom Kirschenmann said the mild, open winter was encouraging coming into the spring breeding and nesting season.

Kirschenmann said the broods seen in early June and the many in mid-June were typical of a good year. He said anecdotal reports had many larger broods and more broods. Likewise, he said it’s not unusual for some late broods in July and early August as pheasants re-nest.

The question is whether there will be enough timely moisture, according to Kirschenmann. He said vegetation in many places will continue to go dry without rains, and that could affect the populations of insects that young pheasants feed upon.

Kirschenmann said he’s hearing from landowners who report more birds than they’ve seen for five or six summers. He said warm weather is positive for young broods.

Summarized Kirschenmann, “I’d say right now we’re looking good and there’s a lot of optimism going into this fall.”

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown said he’s been seeing large broods in his area of northeastern South Dakota. He praised the marketing program.

Commissioner Travis Bies of Fairburn said he repeatedly slowed down for broods on the highways between Pierre and Watertown, where the commission met Thursday.

Meanwhile, the governor’s nest-predator bounty program that began April 1 topped the $500,000 mark on its final day July 1, according to program administrator Keith Fisk.

He told the commission that more than 53,000 tails were submitted for the $10 bounties. There were about 2,800 participants, with roughly 30% younger than age 18, according to Fisk.

Fourteen youths were selected as weekly winners of a prize package of three traps, a knife and a trapping book. The program will continue in 2022, starting in March for those younger than age 18 and April for everyond.

“It was a good program,” Fisk said. “We really had good participation, good weather.”

Bies calculated that 53,000 tails at five nests apiece equaled potentially 250,000-plus nests that were preserved.

Sharp said there has been tremendous pheasant hunting in many areas the past few years and the program seemed to be doing some good in increasing survival of pheasants and waterfowl.

Fisk acknowledged the contributions of GFP staff for working at collection sites and their positive interactions with the trappers. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Fisk said.

Sharp agreed: “When you’re dealing with that number of tails, it is work.”

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre of Webster agreed with Bies’ arithmetic. “I see a lot of waterfowl and pheasant chicks driving around the area,” Whitmyre said.  

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