From good nesting and brood-rearing conditions in spring and summer to quickly maturing crops in the field this fall, stage is set for a good South Dakota pheasant hunt
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South Dakota suspended its longstanding and much-anticipated annual roadside pheasant count survey this past summer. Even without hard data, we’ll take some looks into South Dakota’s pheasant prospects for this fall and early winter.
LAST YEAR’S HUNT
“Due to a wet summer and fall, standing crops were present for most of the hunting season in 2019, which provided vast refuges for roosters,” says Travis Runia, senior upland game biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “In addition to unharvested crops, many fields were too wet to plant and grew to weeds. While this provided great habitat, the vast amount of this new habitat made it challenging to hunt.”
“As crops finally got harvested late in the year,” Runia continues, “many late season pheasant hunters were rewarded with spectacular hunting. Overall, most hunters that chased roosters in 2019 are looking forward to a more ‘normal’ year for hunting in 2020.” Indeed: agricultural reports are that corn and soybeans are maturing nicely thus far this early fall, and hunters should not be dealing with as many crops in the field this fall.
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
In general across the Northern Plains, a sometimes-rough winter did not take a heavy toll on wildlife. Pheasants are just that tough. It appears that last year’s wet conditions put habitat there is on the landscape in good shape for potential brood production.
A silver lining for 2020, at least as far as early season hunting goes: Agricultural reports are that corn and soybeans are maturing nicely thus far this early fall, and hunters should not be dealing with as many crops in the field this fall across the state.
HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS
Usually this space would focus on roadside counts, but none were done this year. “The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks is not providing a pheasant abundance forecast this year,” advises Runia.
Still, we can look at conditions and make some educated insights.
“Most of the primary pheasant range was drought free this year and grassland habitat looks great across the state going into early fall,” says Runia. “With the wet weather last year, cattail abundance has skyrocketed across the landscape, especially in the entire James River Valley. Cattails are a favorite habitat for pheasants, especially as winter sets in. In addition to providing a place to hunt, the abundance of cattail sloughs could positively influence pheasant survival this winter.”
Its hard to find a place in South Dakota’s pheasant range that won’t offer good hunting. That’s one of the beauties of going to the Pheasant Capital of the World. It’s really all about the kind of terrain you’d like to see. Places to consider include the Northeast and its farmlands and prairie potholes (think Redfield, Watertown and Huron), the Missouri River and James River runs (think Aberdeen, Pierre and Chamberlain), and the classics such as Winner, Mitchell, Plankinton-White Lake and Murdo. Check some of them out here
Check out South Dakota GFP’s Ringneck Outlook here
Finally, a copy of South Dakota’s 2019 Pheasant Harvest Per Square Mile County-by-County Map (displayed below and interactively available here
) may be of help in planning a hunt.
“Although pheasant opener draws a lot of attention for good reason,” says Runia, “hunting is often better weeks later as crop harvest progresses. We encourage hunters to enjoy the rich traditions associated with the opener, but hunters should look for excellent hunting weeks later as ‘pheasant refuge’ cropfields are harvested and birds are pushed into more huntable habitats.”
Don’t worry about all the pheasants being “all shot out.” They may be educated, but there will still be plenty to hunt there late in the season.
South Dakota expanded its pheasant hunting season this year: Hunting will remain open until January 31 as opposed to the usual early January, offering hardy hunters and their dogs some extra weeks in the field.