Back in the late 1960’s, Pennsylvania was the South Dakota of pheasant hunting. Sportsman harvested over million pheasants a season from this eastern state and in 1971 over 1.3 million of them were taken by Pennsylvania hunters. But by the mid 1990s these numbers had crashed and fewer than 255,000 pheasants were being killed a year.
In 2006, South Dakota hunters killed over two million pheasants. I hunted out there last fall and while the birds numbers are down, there were still plenty of pheasants around. But this may not be the case in the future.
StarTribune reporter Dennis Anderson filed this story on changes going on in South Dakota and how these changes are impacted one of America’s favorite upland birds. Here’s an excerpt:
“Anyone who thinks South Dakota can continue to produce the pheasants, ducks and other wildlife it has in the past just doesn’t know what’s going on here. You’re quite possibly witnessing the end of an era. Some of the nation’s last, best prairies and potholes are going away.” Read the full article now.
Just when I’m heading back to South Dakota for the season opener….
PHEASANT COUNTS DECLINE FROM HISTORIC HIGHS, BUT STILL GOOD
PIERRE, S.D. – Pheasant brood counts indicate that pheasant numbers in South Dakota have returned to levels below the remarkable high counts of the past few years.
However, the pheasant population in the main part of the state’s pheasant range will still provide quality hunting opportunities.
From 2003 through 2010, the statewide pheasant-per-mile index was at levels not seen in the previous 40 years. The index this year is 46 percent lower than the 2010 index and 41 percent lower than the average of the past 10 years.
“We observed abnormally high mortality of hen pheasants during the brutal winter of 2010-11,” explained Jeff Vonk, Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, “The loss of that reproductive potential inhibited the ability of our pheasant population to rebound to the record levels that we have enjoyed in recent years.”
Declines in the counts were consistent across the state and most pronounced in eastern South Dakota, where winter’s grip was tightest and grassland nesting habitat is diminished….