So…does South Dakota stock pheasants?

100% Wild South Dakota Ringneck Pheasants
100% Wild South Dakota Ringneck Pheasants

Heaven, Mecca, Valhalla – South Dakota is all three to fanatical upland hunters like me. With millions of birds, countless places to hunt, and great people, it’s one of the finest places on earth to find yourself walking behind a hunting dog with a double barrel in your hands.

Part of what makes South Dakota so special to me is its “wildness” (or what suburbanites like me think is “wildness”) and part of this comes from the birds I hunt: Wild, long spurred ringneck pheasants. That’s what I travel thousands of miles see and that’s what I want to draw a bead on when I’m in the fields.

But every year I hear rumors about stock pheasants and the state of South Dakota releasing pen-raised birds. Several years ago I saw crates of pen-raised roosters stacked on a flat bed driving west towards Pierre. This makes me wonder: just how wild are South Dakota’s pheasants?

The answer is……drum roll………it depends. One thing I want to make absolutely clear is that I’ve never seen any evidence that the state of South Dakota stocks ringneck pheasants. None. And if you’re on land open to the public, your pheasants are probably 100% wild. But if you’re paying to shoot, especially on what the state calls a “private shooting preserve”, that may not be the case.

South Dakota’s Private Shooting Preserves are hunting operations licensed by the state. Right now,  there are 198 of them in South Dakota ranging in size from 160 to 2500 acres (1018 acres is average). According to the state’s, these preserves released 356,727 roosters in 2010-2011. Over the same period of time, these preserves killed 242,705 stocked birds and 57, 611 wild birds. So in 2010-11, the chances that a person killed a wild pheasant on a licensed SD Private Shooting Preserve was roughly 1 in 4.

Of course, some operations release more birds than others. Some probably get by on the state’s minimums (300 roosters the first year of your license, 600 a year afterwards), while a few must stock hundred of roosters a week at the peak of the season.

(BTW: Here are all the numbers and here’s SD’s rule on stocking.)

Now that we know the answer to “Do they release pheasants?”, lets ask another question: “Is stocking a bad thing?” I don’t think so. First of, I’m sure some commercial operations need to do just to stay open. Hunting the same ground, day after day, kills a lot of birds. The only way to guarantee a great experience is to stock roosters.

Stocking also gives hunters more options. SD’s Private Shooting Preserves have long seasons.  According to the state: “The shooting preserve season runs from September 1 until March 31 of the following year.” The upcoming pheasant season goes from Oct. 20, 2012 to Jan. 6, 2013. So Private Shooting Preserves gives guys 16+ more weeks of hunting.

That’s a long time, and it’s not just more days to shoot birds. It’s more time for folks to spend time with friends, firm up business contacts, experience a great sport, and even to spend time in the field with bird dogs. On top of that, more time and more hunting adds up to more jobs for people in the area and more revenue for land owners and the state. Regardless of how wild the birds are, all this is 100% positive.

Of course, if you want wild pheasants, South Dakota is still one of the best places in the world to find them. Last year, 189,000 hunters killed 1.55 million South Dakota pheasants. About 16% of these birds were stocked. The rest were as wild as a summertime thunderstorm. Those are the birds I’ll be chasing the next time I’m out that way.


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4 thoughts on “So…does South Dakota stock pheasants?

  1. I’ve hunted many different areas in South Dakota and any hunting preserve must track the number of birds (pen raised or wild) killed by hunters. They are then required to replace the number of killed birds by pen raised birds. Where else can they get those high number of birds? Most birds in SD are pen raised, that’s why they are so easy to kill wiyh a 28 or 20 gauge. If you want to kill only wild birds you have to go to Twin Creek Ranch in MT. They only allow 60 hunters to take 3 birds a day for three days. At that rate they know the flock of wid birds can reproduce and the flock can actually grow. No pen raised birds have ever been introduced to the ranch. Other species are also available. Be sure to bring your 12 gauge, they are harder to kill.

  2. Jerry-
    I agree with you on the preserves 100%. Regarding the rest, I’ve never seen any evidence that the state of South Dakota stocks birds. Period.

    SD gets all those wild birds from smart habitat/game management and from the excellent breeding/feeding resources available.

    So unless you can provide some evidence to support this statement “Most birds in SD are pen raised…”, I have to say it’s simply not true.

    BTW: I’ve hunted wild pheasants in Montana & SD. I’ve never seen a difference in the quality of the birds – except for there being more wild pheasants in SD.

    Thanks for the post.


  3. Gregg:
    I hunted Broken Arrow Farm in SD for a few days, and they also raise/sell over 5000 birds alone to different entities in SD, and he is only one of many that do so. The majority of birds killed in SD are pen raised birds, not wild birds.


  4. Hi Jerry-

    Sorry for my late comment. Your response got lost in the system. I’ve hunted out in SD a lot, and I would have to disagree with you. All of the birds I shot were 100% wild. How do I know? I know the families that own the land. They don’t stock birds and the state doesn’t stock birds on their land. Are there stocked birds out there? Absolutely. Most of the pay-to-hunt places use them. That’s the only way you can keep enough birds on your land to run an operation.



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