Hunting & Heritage  |  07/19/2018

Summer Pheasant Report: South Dakota

By Tom Carpenter, Editor - Pheasants Forever

No matter how you measure summer, it starts to wane somewhere, sometime, in July. 

Maybe the weather doesn’t quite say autumn is on the way, but the upland hunter’s mind begins to turn just a bit toward autumn – getting the dog out more, shooting a few rounds, patching up those boots and brush pants, placing that ammo order … and dreaming about splendid roosters erupting into a blue autumn sky.

It’s never too early to dream. Or to start planning autumn’s excursions and adventures. That’s why I surveyed key wildlife managers in the ten of the top pheasant states to see what was going on with the birds right now. While the biologists are careful to hold predictions close to their vests until official roadside surveys and the like are in, it’s also far enough along to take an early look.

Read on. Dream on. Start getting ready. Here's your South Dakota report.


“The spring and summer have featured some active weather,” reports Travis Runia, Senior Upland Game Biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “April brought record cold temperatures statewide and 20 to 30 inches of snow in central and eastern portions of the state.”

“The powerful blizzard that impacted the state in mid-April likely caused some direct mortality to pheasants,” he says. “Although late April represents the very beginning of the nesting season, the cold and snowy month probably delayed hen dispersal, growth of nesting cover, and subsequently delayed the beginning of the nesting season.”

“May and June weather patterns were highly variable in the state,” says Runia. “Portions of northeastern South Dakota have been under moderate drought while farther to the south detrimental amounts of rain have fallen, particularly in the far Southeast, where June precipitation was double normal. Excessive rainfall during the brood-rearing season of May and June can reduce chick survival.”

“Overall, environmental conditions have been most favorable in the Northeast, where June precipitation has not been excessive,” he says, “and this same area was mostly spared by the historic mid-April blizzard.”


“Severe drought in 2017 left less than average residual cover on the landscape going into the 2018 growing season,” says Runia. “Many Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were hayed as drought resulted in emergency declarations. Residual cover is important for early nesting attempts before new growth provides concealment.”

“Fortunately, most of the state has received adequate precipitation to provide concealment cover for nesting and brooding hens as the growing season progressed,” Runia adds. “Acreage of the most important pheasant habitat, CRP, has been steady at approximately 1 million acres for the past few years.”


“The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks continues to aggressively seek enrollments in its voluntary private land access program known as the Walk-In Area program,” says Runia. “Over 6,000 new acres of CRP or CRP-like habitat have been added to the already existing 200,000 acres.  More pheasant habitat on private land will be available for public hunting through the walk-in area program in 2018 than ever before.  Total enrollment in the walk-in area will be over 1.2 million acres.  The walk-in area program has been an incredibly successful partnership among our agency, our hunters, and most importantly private landowners.”  


Runia must be a poker player, because he is the hardest of all the state biologists to pin down before he has all the data in. There are just too many variables – some of them good ones, such as ideal late summer weather, brood success and unsuccessful hens re-nesting – to say pheasant counts are going to be better or not this year.

“The results of South Dakota’s highly anticipated August roadside pheasant survey will be available by Labor Day,” is all he would give me. “The robust survey is a consistent predictor of pheasant population change.”

“This will be the 100th pheasant season in South Dakota,” Runia concludes. Let’s hope for a good end to summer to help the birds and help celebrate that century mark in South Dakota. Stay tuned, and PF will report back after Labor Day.