Update: 2017 South Dakota Pheasant Survey Poses Challenge

  • 08/25/2017

South Dakota’s annual roadside pheasant count dropped from 2016 but the state should still see a million birds bagged in 2017

By Tom Carpenter, Pheasants Forever Digital Content Manager

Always long anticipated and much awaited, South Dakota’s annual pheasant brood survey results are in. The data shows a significant decrease in the pheasants-per-mile (PPM) index for 2017. This year, the statewide PPM index came in at 1.68, versus 3.05 in 2016.


“This news is disappointing but not surprising,” said Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever’s state coordinator in South Dakota. “We pretty much knew this was coming. Now we simply have the numbers.”

“It started with what was a bad South Dakota winter,” said Morlock, “and then we got another hit in the form of a severe drought in many areas of the state that degraded some habitat and limited insect counts, leaving pheasant chicks short of their key food.”

“This situation reminds us as hunter-conservationists that we need a strengthened federal Farm Bill and wildlife lands program,” said Morlock. “Growing the Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in the 2018 Farm Bill will be critical to helping our pheasant populations long-term.”

It all comes back to needing more grass on the ground so severe weather will have less effect on birds. “A strong Working Lands Program and partnership with farmers and ranchers is key to pheasant numbers in the long run,” said Morlock.

“Some good news is that we’ve had good rain in August,” said Morlock. “That should help the habitat rejuvenate for next year.” See South Dakota's news release here.


South Dakota will still have birds come October 21, when the regular hunting season opens. I for one wouldn’t change any plans on hunting the state this fall. I’d just work harder to find the pheasant pockets that exist. And they do. 

In 2012, which saw the lowest PPM count since the early 1940s, there were still a million birds shot in South Dakota. This year, hunters should also break that million-bird harvest mark. “It will take more boot leather than usual,” said Morlock. “But that’s just hunting.” 

Pheasants Forever’s 2017 Summer Pheasant Report offers some good insights for planning this fall’s hunt. Here are some other bright spots to keep in mind:

Some perspective: 2016’s preseason population estimate was 8.2 million pheasants. In the poor year of 2013, it was 6.2 million pheasants. This year’s population should sit somewhere between those two numbers. That’s still a load of pheasants.

“I’m hearing spots of good news out of the James River valley,” said Morlock. “The Jim valley will hold its own this fall.” Hunting will take some work, and mobility will be key.

“The Chamberlain and Winner areas are down from normal, but there are still lots of birds to be had,” added Morlock.

“The Missouri River valley will be a little tougher, especially the farther north you go,” said Morlock. That’s where drought hit hardest. But where you find good habitat, you should find birds … again, with some hunting effort.

“Then there are just places that have the habitat. I heard from some folks south of Huron who have never seen so many pheasants running around,” said Morlock. 

All of which just goes to show: Habitat is the key to everything, winter and drought be danged.

NOTE: Because of the drought, the USDA did open South Dakota’s CRP lands to emergency haying and grazing this summer.  This will result in some publicly accessible CRP lands enrolled in the state’s walk-in program not being great hunting options this autumn.


Want to help us make sure South Dakota remains “The Pheasant Capital” of the United States?  Get involved in our habitat conservation mission by attending your local Pheasants Forever Chapter banquet or becoming a Pheasants Forever member today.