Limit: 1 per season
The Greater Sage grouse are found in limited numbers on native prairie in northwestern South Dakota. They are a large, rounded-winged, ground-dwelling bird, up to 30 inches long and two feet tall, weighing from two to seven pounds. They have a long, pointed tail with legs feathered to the base of the toes. Females are a mottled brown, black, and white. Males are larger and have a large white ruff around their neck and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts, which they inflate during their mating display.
The sage grouse is very dependent on sagebrush for food and shelter. Loss of that habitat has lead to a decline in their numbers. Ironically, over the past several years South Dakota hunters have provided valuable information to GFP biologists during their limited hunt.
The sage grouse hunting season in South Dakota is very restrictive. In the past:
- a two-day season in late September (Wednesday and Thursday)
- one bird season limit per hunter
- open only on public lands (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, State School and Public Lands, and private land leased by SD GF&P for public hunting as Walk-In Area) in all of Harding and those located west of US Highway 85 in Butte County
Because of the low number of sage grouse present in South Dakota, there is a sector of the public which believes an annual hunting season adds unnecessary mortality to an already distressed bird population. On the other hand, the restrictive 2-day season is looked upon as a trophy hunt to a small but avid group of grouse hunters. However, setting aside the social issues involved with a season, research suggests that a harvest of less then 10% of the annual fall population will not have a negative impact on the population, and most importantly the following spring breeding population.
Although a fall population can only be estimated, sage grouse harvest in South Dakota is well below that 10% mark as an average of 18 birds per year are harvested, which is less than 5% of the total males counted on spring leks. Using an estimate of 1,500 birds comprising the spring population of 2007, less than 1% of that population was harvested.
If future spring lek counts determine significant decreases in bird numbers, the hunting season will need to be evaluated and determined if a restrictive season can continue.