Out of state pheasant hunters, will they still come during the pandemic?

Eye on KELOLAND

Saturday is traditionally the start of a big weekend in South Dakota.

That’s because it’s the pheasant hunting season opener.

Typically, tens of thousands of out of state hunters come here to hunt, but with the pandemic, will that be true this year, or do they think it’s too risky?

South Dakota is the Pheasant Hunting Capital of the World.

But will the pandemic shoot holes into that title?

“We’re all still coming we’ve been coming for almost ten years now,” Dustin Medlin from Kansas said.

Dustin Medlin from the Kansas City area says he loves hunting in South Dakota.

Typically there are more than a dozen hunters in his group, including his dad. He says he’s not worried about contracting COVID-19 and is not going to miss the opening weekend.

“I’m not going to put my life on the backburner and not do things that I love to do, with people I love to do them with,” Medlin said.

“We’ve been coming for over 30 years, we just love it,” Elmo Ziebach of Alabama said.

Elmo Ziebach of Alabama is also still planning to come for the pheasant opener this weekend.

“Once you get out in the field, you’re kind of away from everybody, you are social distancing, we try to stay about 30 40 feet away from each other when we are walking through the field,” Ziebach said.

Ziebach says his group is planning to make some changes due to the pandemic.

“We are probably going to bring more food than we usually do and cook out some rather than go to restaurants,” Ziebach said.

Officials with the Game, Fish and Parks department don’t know exactly what kind of impact the pandemic will have on this year’s hunting season, but they’re confident there’ll be plenty of out of staters still flocking here.

“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,” Wildlife Director at Game, Fish and Parks Tom Kirschenmann said.

The Game, Fish and Parks Department says it’ll have a better idea of how many out of state hunters are still coming in a few days.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to see somewhere in that neighborhood of 25 to 35,000 licenses sold this week and I’m just looking from a historical perspective, it’s just a really big week,” Kirschenmann said.

He says there have been some cancellations, though, due to COVID-19.

“A few of the private shooting preserves have shared that some of their reservations and groups that were coming in have cancelled this year, but in most cases, it is more of corporate hunt; a company or corporation that was going to send a group of hunters,” Kirschenmann said.

But for guys like Medlin and Ziebach, they’re ready to shoot some birds and see old friends.

“Everybody is just really nice, they take good care of us, when we go into the local bar, other hunters are nice and we’re always talking to other hunters and sharing stories, it’s just good camaraderie,” Medlin said.

“The great thing about pheasant hunting, like many other of our outdoor recreation, we are outdoors right and folks can be outside, spread apart you know if there’s an activity that lends itself great to the current situation, pheasant hunting is a great example. I don’t think that’s going to curtail people from coming in fact it might actually elevate the participation knowing that South Dakota is open and it’s a great place to come pheasant hunt and there are some good opportunities out there,” Kirschenmann said.

The Game, Fish and Parks made a couple of changes to this year’s pheasant hunting season.

Hunters can start at 10 a.m. instead of noon and they can now hunt until the end of January.

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