- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An annual survey shows a 20 percent drop in the number of pheasants in South Dakota, but the state’s top wildlife official says hunting should still be good in the fall.

Pheasants are big business in South Dakota, with tens of thousands of out-of-state hunters spending tens of millions of dollars every year.

The statewide survey conducted by the Game, Fish and Parks Department includes 110 30-mile routes. It’s intended to measure trends rather than the numerical pheasant population. The survey’s pheasants-per-mile count dropped from 3.83 last year to 3.05 this year.

However, the drop follows two years of substantial increases. This year’s count also is substantially higher than the 2.7 pheasants per mile observed in 2014, when hunters still harvested 1.2 million roosters, according to department Secretary Kelly Hepler.

“Each year, the results of this survey are highly anticipated by those with a strong interest in South Dakota’s hunting heritage,” Hepler said in a statement. “The availability of pheasants and pheasant-hunting opportunities across the state this fall should serve to enhance that tradition.”

Notable decreases in the index were documented this year in the Chamberlain, Winner, Aberdeen, Huron, Mitchell, Yankton and Sioux Falls areas. However, officials said poor weather during the survey might have influenced results, and they encouraged hunters to check with people in their traditional hunting areas about pheasant abundance.

“This will be especially important in northeastern South Dakota, where survey results were lower but weather conditions were favorable for pheasant survival and reproduction during the past year,” the report said.

The pheasant-per-mile index is down only slightly in western South Dakota despite widespread drought, and Bennett and Perkins counties will again be primary destinations for hunters, the report said.

This year’s pheasant count is down about 41 percent from the 10-year average and reflects a steady drop over the past decade in the amount of land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

“Bird numbers are higher in parts of the state where quality habitat conditions still exist, primarily on grasslands … as well as fields of cereal crops such as winter wheat,” Hepler said.

South Dakota has more than 1 million acres of land open to public hunting and draws hunters from around the country. Some cities including Sioux Falls in past years have added airline flights for the pheasant season and held welcoming ceremonies for incoming hunters.

Last year, nearly 85,000 nonresident hunters spent an estimated $140 million in South Dakota, and the state’s 65,000 resident hunters added another $30 million.

This year’s statewide pheasant season opens Oct. 15 and runs through next Jan. 1.

“Good pheasant hunting opportunities will exist in 2016,” Hepler said.


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