State government plans to pay to promote S.D. pheasant hunting, will halt brood-route counts

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Big changes are coming in an effort to revive pheasant hunting in South Dakota.

Two state government departments plan to spend $700,000 on advertising this year to market South Dakota as the nation’s best place to pursue ring-necks.

Paid advertising that starts in mid-June will cover 16 states and run through November.

The state Wildlife Division meanwhile will halt the summer brood routes that have been used since the 1940s to gauge pheasant populations.

Wildlife Division Director Tom Kirschenmann said proposals will come in July to extend the season deeper into January, expand the late-season bag limit, and expand shooting hours.

The main season this year runs October 17 through January 3. A hunter can take three roosters daily. The first eight days of the season open at noon local time and then switch to 10 a.m.

The state Tourism Department will run the advertising campaign for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department. Each department is contributing $350,000.

The goal this year is to slow the decline in license sales, followed by a 3% increase next year and a 7% increase in 2022.

Resident license sales were about 79,000 in 2019, including combination and small game; they totaled more than 92,000 in 2015.

Non-resident sales were about 76,000 in 2019, including small game and shooting preserve; they were about 97,000 in 2015.

Tourism and GFP officials made a presentation Thursday to the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission about the promotion plan.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” Tourism’s Kirk Hulstein said. “It’s not a one and done. This is a long term effort.”

The campaign will use advertising agencies Lawrence and Schiller of Sioux Falls and MMGY Global of Kansas City, Missouri.

The ads will target traditionalists who want to keep hunting alive, lapsed-use hunters whose circumstances haven’t allowed them to stay in the field, and adventure hunters, according to Mike Gussiaas, another Tourism Department official.

The theme: “Hunt the greatest.”

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler recommended that the brood surveys be dropped. Hepler said the results haven’t led to changes in the pheasant season, and in years when the pheasants per mile index was down, the news hurt marketing, even though South Dakota still was “head and shoulders” better than other states.

“Then the question becomes, what is the purpose of it?” Hepler said.

The South Dakota Wildlife Federation learned beforehand that brood routes might be eliminated and asked for 30 days so the public could comment.

Hepler acknowledged the public has a role in wildlife management decisions – “There’s a lot of passion on this.” — but said whether brood routes are continued is a decision for the department.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown was one of the four commissioners who served on a committee that helped develop the marketing approach. He agreed with letting the department decide whether to halt the brood routes. “While it’s information, it wasn’t used for any management purposes,” Sharp said.

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre of Webster, who was also on the marketing panel, said the pheasants per mile index over the years fluctuated significantly but hunter-success ratios didn’t move to the same degree. Whitmyre said other data would continue to be collected.

Chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City and commissioner Russ Olson of Wentworth also were on the panel. Olson said 2020 is “the perfect year to stop doing it.”

“We’re running a business here. You have to remember that,” Olson said. “It (the index) hurts us more than it helps us. It’s time to move on,” Olson said.

The commission plans to track the results. “We’ll look at the pheasant marketing every month going forward,” Jensen said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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