CREP walk-in hunting areas in eastern South Dakota have provided some of the best available public pheasant hunting opportunities in 2012, but as the smoke in the background indicates, not all habitat has made it through this autumn standing. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever
The calendar has turned to December, and that means just five weekends left in South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season. Overall hunting success appears to be spotty due to the effects of the ongoing drought. Many public and private areas of grass were hayed to help livestock producers in this tough year, and the quality of other grass stands is lacking. More alarming, as detailed in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, is the looming crisis in pheasant country, as the dry conditions have allowed the appetite for corn to reach new levels, resulting in the burning and dismantling of an unquantifiable number of wetlands, cattails draws, fence lines, shelterbelts and groves.
Here with on-the-ground hunting and habitat reports are Pheasants Forever staff members in South Dakota:
My family was able to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday with my In-Law’s, who farm in north-central S.D. I can think of no better way to spend “Black Friday” than to grab a dog and shotgun and go pheasant hunting! Joining me was my son, Zach, and my brother-in-law, Jeff, from Mitchell. Habitat conditions were quite a bit different than past years’ hunts, due to the drying up of wetlands, and with that, the desire to farm these areas. However, we found the remaining habitat like shelterbelts, fence lines, and even harvested crop stubble (wheat) to be productive. From other reports I’m hearing, there seems to be a solid number of hens in all areas of the state, which is very encouraging. So even in areas where bird numbers have not been as strong as last year, the potential for a solid rebound next spring is there. Hopefully, those hens will be able to find a quality place to nest. CRP anyone? Come on Washington, let’s have a Farm Bill!
- Jim Ristau, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Chamberlain, S.D.
PF Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Jim Ristau found this midseason rooster at a public tract near Chamberlain.
I’ve heard mixed reports, but the overall consensus has been fairly tough hunting. In my experience, in the field where there is habitat, the birds will be found. Much of my successes have been in cattails – long days for a bird or two. And with the weather being as fair, birds have been wild and not holding for a young pointer.
- Mike Stephenson, Pheasants Forever South Dakota Regional Representative – Emery, S.D.
Pheasant hunting has been a little slow in much of the state, the birds are bunched up and pretty wild. If you are in for a challenge, this is the year. You need to hunt quiet and fast, especially on public ground. I would head for the “off the beaten path” spots along the Missouri and out west for the best results. This is a different style of a hunt, as you’re not walking food plots and tall grass; rather you are going to be targeting woody draws and more linear cover. On a more positive side, the reports on the grouse hunting have been excellent this year!
- Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II – Volga, S.D
Hunting in northeast South Dakota has been pretty hit and miss. Some of our best success has come out of hunting new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) walk-in areas with quality grass right before sundown. We’ve been seeing good numbers of birds, but due to milder weather and no snow, they are busting out early and are tough to keep in gunning range. Although it’s been difficult hunting, I think we should consider ourselves fortunate this year. The rate of grass conversion and the amount of cattail sloughs being burned is jaw dropping. It will be difficult to say what the bird numbers will look like next year with the significant loss of habitat taking place this fall.
- Ben Lardy, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist – Webster, S.D.
In Sanborn and Jerauld Counties, most guys have been shooting a bird or two per day. I talked to a group of guys that was hunting last weekend on public and private ground south of Mitchell, and they saw plenty of birds.
- Scott Groepper, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Woonsocket, S.D.
Have you been pheasant hunting in South Dakota this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.
Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.