South Dakota is dying…

South Dakota, 2011. The last good year?
South Dakota, 2011. The last good year?

This is a sad story. It kicks me in the gut and makes me want to scream.

Right now, one of the greatest places on earth to hunt wild game birds is dying.

Across South Dakota, the double blow of drought and vanishing cover is wiping out the pheasants, sharptails, and huns. I’m sure it’s having the same impact on waterfowl and other wildlife, too.

This report confirms my fears. It’s a first-hand account from a friend and one of the most disheartening things I’ve read in a long time.

October 26, Miller, SD — The pheasants are gone. We have hunted three farms that total over 22 sections for more than 20 years. There were 8 of us this year, all experienced hunters and two very good dogs, my 5 year old Lab and a 7 year old Golden. In 4 days of hunting from noon until dark we killed a grand total of 12 pheasants. I shot 3 shells and killed two. Two of the hunters did not get one bird. We talked to a group of 10 hunters from Ohio and Indiana Wednesday who hunted for three hours Tuesday before they even saw one hen. We were skunked Wednesday! We hunted from noon until dark and saw only two roosters and five hens. We did not see one Sharptail or Chicken the entire week.

Until this year there were a total of 4 sections on the farms in CRP. They are all in crops now. Five years ago there were no soybeans anywhere due to the low moisture of the soil. This year with new genetic modified seeds, there were five sections planted in beans. Of course the harvested fields looked like a paved parking lot and there were no birds anywhere around them.

To give you a perspective, one of our group has kept a detailed hunting log of every hunt, every day, for the past 21 years. Every year until last year the group averaged over 13 birds per hunter every year. Five years ago, in the third week of the season, 12 of us killed 36 pheasants in less than two and a half hours on the same farms.

I doubt if I will ever go back to hunt pheasants in South Dakota. Every hunter that we talked with this week had very similar experiences. We did not talk to anyone who had a good hunt. They have done the same things that essentially destroyed the pheasant hunting in Iowa.

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19 thoughts on “South Dakota is dying…

  1. The wild bird hunting of the mid-west of the last 20 years will be akin to the grouse hunting of New England in the days of Spiller and Tapply.

  2. Then you should come to England. As one of a party of eight standing guns we shot 233 yesterday. We will shoot over 250 in Norfolk on Wednesday. On Friday we should account for at least 75 with muzzles loaders and a similar amount on Saturday with the same black powder stuff. It all happens here, leave Dakota behind you and get on the red-eye!!

  3. Yes – unless something is done now. If you care about the Dakota’s, fight for it. Write letters to newspapers, complain to the tourism board, bitch to Pheasant Forever.


  4. Yeah, but these are wild birds – the real thing. They’ve never seen a pen or a feeder. I can drive 75 miles from my home outside of Boston and have released pheasants pushed to me all day. It’s a totally different experience, and not nearly as exciting as hunting wild birds.



  5. Hunted S.D. wild pheasants 50 miles South of Pierre last week, and our group of 10 hunters limited 2 days out of 3; and got 90% that day. There are probably 50% less birds than last year. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of wild birds. Biggest problem was that 70% of the crops are not yet harvested.

  6. Jerry-

    Glad to hear it. Some areas of the state are seeing dips in the pheasant populations, others are seeing much, much lower numbers. But this is how a trend starts. And one thing is for certain: SD is losing more cover every day. I’ve talked to wildlife biologist on the ground in SD and they’ve confirmed it. Lose the cover, lose the birds. Just look at Iowa…

    Appreciate the comment.


  7. Just returned from our hunting trip to SD and I can confirm everything that is stated in this column to be true. Sad but true!! I’ve been hunting SD since 1976 and this is by far the worst I’ve ever seen and I see no chance of improvement unless the state and government change their thinking.

  8. Steve-

    Thanks for the note. I’m sorry to hear that you’re seeing the same thing. Please spread the word. Perhaps we can do something about it.


  9. Truth is, the state cannot do much about the loss of habitat aka CRP.
    King corn/ethanol is the biggest culprit. The big test will be next year as we just came out of a drought year, 2012 where corn ended up at $8.00. Land prices went up 30% and this year corn is at $4.00. If you bought land last year, it could be painful.
    The farmers burned, ripped, tiled and planted every square ft. of ground that did not have standing water on it in July. They baled the cat tails and cut every blade of wild grass they could get at to replace what they plowed. The State of SD actually lowered taxes on farmers on the basis they were being unfairly taxed on rising land values, which only the farmers were responsible for.
    Not against my farmer neighbors and friends from doing what they want with their land tho I believe the Bible speaks of stewardship, not rape. Right now they bitch about no Farm Bill guarrentting they never lose and the unholy alliance between the urban food stamp libs and agriculture lobby sucking the juice out of us worker bees.

  10. Buck,
    You got it mostly right. The problem is ethanol. 40% of the entire US corn crop is used to make that stupid stuff. And it isn’t because of the farmers, they are only acting under the conditions that our bureaucrats have decreed. The US must mix billions of gallons of ethanol into our gasoline stock. That’s the law. By 2015 the amount will be 15 Billion gallons that MUST be mixed with gasoline – by Law.

    What this means is that the demand for corn is artificially increased by the central planners in our government. That means that corn prices are higher than they would otherwise be.

    High corn prices mean high land prices. High land prices mean that farmers need to farm every bit of their land to recoup the costs which means they take out CRP, they remove fence rows, the farm up to the ditch, the convert every inch into farmed acreage.

    They have to to make it at these artificial prices. Government is causing the corn price bubble which means a land price bubble, which means we get a corn grown everywhere and it crowds out wildlife.

    I guess that green energy isn’t really green after all. But I do know that Central Planning has been an abject failure wherever it has been tried and our government practices central planning in many areas of our economy – especially our farm economy.

  11. Buck-

    Thanks for the comment. I hope things improve next year.

    Better weather conditions will surely help them. Lose cover will not, though.


  12. Hunted SD the first five days of the season. We had to work harder for birds than in years past, however limited out 4 of the 5 days in the field. The reduction in cover is certainly occurring and is a problem. I personally didn’t encounter drastic reductions in birds though. We had a blast as usual.

  13. Cool. I’m glad things went well for you. I’m hearing reports like yours from some parts of the state. Other areas as seeing dramatic drops in birds numbers.

    But as the state loses more and more cover, it will lose more birds. There’s no way around it.

    Thanks for the comment.


  14. Just returned from S.D. Hunted outskirts of the Winner area. For the last three years I have access to 8 thousand acres of land. A close friend is a cattle rancher with CRP, a mixture of corn and prairie grasses. My first trip in 2011 brought an estimate of 400 birds flushed a day. Couldn’t wait for the next season to hunt S.D. On my return trip, I found that the draught had decimated the thriving bird population by more than estimates reported. Lack of cover, moisture, bug production and predation by air and land were the culprit. Found cracks in the soil 3 to 6 inches. 2013 hunting season was up considering the wet spring. All birds were a late hatch with a 1/8 inch spur. A first for me was a visit by a DNR officer. A gentleman with an understanding of the area and bird populations. We talked about the problem at hand. Was it the wild turkey or a disease brought in by neighboring game farms? My observation was the state doesn’t know. My opinion is its a combination of all factors. The population will recover in areas with proper habitat. Other areas will severely be affected unless the proper changes are addressed. I will return to S.D. next year with hope of a milder winter and just enough rains in the spring. We all know that the pheasant is a tough bird. Just wish the current administration was as tough and well informed with the crisis at hand.

  15. I live in Sioux Falls S D and have CRP land in Moody County which is the first country north. Diminishing of CRP is what it is and will continue. My experience so far this year is that bird numbers in Moody County are down but if you carefully select locations of significant size with good cover, you will get some wild birds with the use of a dog. I found that to be true even in the resident only hunt which is limited to public hunting areas. Especially when coming from some distance at some expense, one surely does not want to get skunked but by being careful on where you are going, you should get adequate shooting of wild birds. I believe that even one wild pheasant is a tremendous experience compared to most pheasant farms.

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