Dry conditions starting to add up in South Dakota. Hatch seemed good. Rain is needed now.
By Matt Morlock
There was a lot of optimism for pheasants in South Dakota this spring. Across the state, winter conditions were light which made the birds’ over-winter survival tremendous. The light snowfall was taken as a blessing, and hunting in short sleeves was common as far into the season as December. It was an indication of what was coming.
Throughout the state now, South Dakota is experiencing a very severe drought which actually goes all the way back to last fall. Much of the state is now well below average for rainfall. This has put South Dakota’s agricultural producers in a worrisome spot as they wonder if there is going to be enough forage for livestock, which is a strong indicator to the condition of our upland habitat. Both our native range and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are stressed, but they have had adequate cover on them to be providing good nesting cover to this point.
In talking with producers around the state that keep an eye on things like our beloved pheasant, the reports have been good as far as the hatch has went. In fact, to many it seems like their hatches might have taken place a couple weeks earlier than the normal peak of June 1. As late as the last week of June they were reporting decent brood sizes of seven to nine chicks which is very good also.
But we are at a critical point and if we do not see some good moisture in July that all could change as we found out several years ago when we saw a late summer die off due to lack of insects and high temperatures.
We are expecting to see an emergency release for haying CRP acres in the coming weeks. Our livestock producers vitally need this. With the early hatch it seems we enjoyed, I would expect this to have some impact on a few late nesting hens, but it will probably have more of an effect on the number of acres available for hunting this fall.
Following is South Dakota's Drought Monitor Conditions Map, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System at drought.gov/states/south-dakota
. Check there for updated information.
Weather forecasts for the first part of July might be looking promising though, and the month kicked off with some much-needed rain right after the Fourth. Widespread rain went across the state with some areas receiving over an inch. This will definitely help the situation. How many birds did that rain save? We will never know. But it was good news indeed.
We do need more rain – for grain producers, for ranchers, and for the birds. Longer-range forecasts are calling for some rain and cooler temperatures through the middle of the month, which will definitely help the situation.
Stay tuned, and watch the weather forecasts and reports for South Dakota. As you think about hunting season, now that the Fourth has passed, plan ahead and scout as much as possible (even if by phone) because areas that you normally hunt may have less cover on them come fall.
Matt Morlock is State Coordinator for Pheasants Forever in South Dakota.