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Forum Communications File Photo Pheasant population in Minnesota had a 68 percent increase, while in South Dakota the increase was 18 percent. After a mild winter across the Midwest, pheasants are starting to make a comeback.

SD survey brings good news for hunters

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Dickinson,North Dakota 58602
The Dickinson Press
SD survey brings good news for hunters
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Good news is apparently in store for pheasant hunters.

Brood count survey results announced this week in South Dakota, the nation's top pheasant hunting state, indicate the statewide population of the birds is up from last year.


Results of the survey show that pheasant numbers grew in many areas of the state, due in large part to a mild winter and ideal weather during the nesting and brood-rearing season.

The pheasants-per-mile index for 2012 is 4.21, up 18 percent from the 3.57 index of 2011.

"The mild winter of 2011-12 was the boost we needed for pheasant survival and reproductive potential," said Jeff Vonk, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, in a news release. "It goes to show that, with the combination of good habitat and the right weather conditions, pheasants can be quite prolific."

For the annual survey, pheasants are counted on 30-mile routes in specific areas across the state each summer between July 25 and Aug. 15.

In addition to the annual brood counts, the GF&P also releases an annual estimate of the pheasant population later in the year. Last year's harsh winter and wet spring brought pheasant counts down 42 percent from 2010 to a statewide population of 5.2 million.

An unscientific analysis of last year's population estimate paired with this year's 18 percent increase in the brood counts would seem to project a pheasant population of around 6.1 million this year.

In 2007, the largest population in 70 years was estimated with nearly 12 million birds.

This week's GF&P news release said most of the state was snow-free for a majority of last winter, which likely resulted in higher pheasant winter survival than the previous three years.

Hens were likely in very healthy body condition going into the nesting season, which may have also increased reproductive effort and success. The spring and summer was hot and dry, which, unless extreme, is favorable for pheasant production.

"Pheasant hunting will be good across most of the state, with the traditional pheasant range once again providing excellent hunting opportunities," Vonk said. "More than 1.5 million pheasants were harvested last year, and our counts indicate that this year will be another exceptional year for pheasant hunting in South Dakota."

While numbers were up statewide, it wasn't all good news.

Rooster numbers were down 15 percent, but the number of hens in the state was up 5 percent over last year.

The Chamberlain area saw a 6 percent decrease from last year's brood count and a decrease of 31 percent compared to the area's 10-year average. Still, the Chamberlain area holds the highest pheasants per mile in the new brood survey, with 10.81.

The new release noted that portions of central South Dakota, such as Chamberlain, would have benefited from more early spring precipitation. Such precipitation is vital for grass growth that pheasants use for nesting and could be a reason why numbers declined in some areas.

Western South Dakota saw the most dramatic drop-off, with numbers 37 percent down from last year.

The Mitchell area has a 31 percent increase over last year's numbers and now has 3.91 pheasants per mile. But that number is well below the 10-year average of 6.1.

The largest increase came in the Brookings area, with a 71 percent jump over last year's count.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the pheasant survey is good news for the state.

"Pheasant hunting is important to the economic well-being of South Dakota, and it also helps support the strong outdoor heritage of our state," the governor said in the GF&P news release.