Quality Habitat Means Abundant Birds in South Dakota

June 15, 2023

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) today announced the pheasant harvest total from the 2022-2023 season. The traditional season ran from October 15, 2022, to January 31, 2023. During this season, hunters harvested an estimated 1,158,000 birds.

“South Dakota is the greatest state in the country to pheasant hunt,” said Kevin Robling, GFP Secretary. “The harvest numbers show exactly why: hunters are going to find abundant birds across the state all season long.”

Hunter reports throughout the 2022 season spoke to this abundance of birds, and the harvest numbers support their claims. The 2022 season saw the highest harvest since 2016 and was 10% higher than the past 10-year average. These numbers translate to excellent bags for hunters, with averages at 9 pheasants per hunter for the 2022 season.

South Dakota’s claim to the greatest state to pheasant hunt is supported by these pheasants per hunter numbers. While surrounding states generally see harvest rates of 3 to 6 birds per hunter, South Dakota routinely sees harvest rates around 9 pheasants per hunter, such as in 2022.

South Dakota’s focus on habitat and public access have led to a high quantity of birds across the state, ample areas to target them, and overall good hunting conditions.

“Quality habitat is key for abundant wildlife populations, which is why this is the number one priority for our department,” continued Robling. “Hunters also need to have access to these areas to be able to enjoy these populations.”

GFP has 12 private lands habitat biologists that work directly with landowners to identify both habitat projects and access programs that will benefit the landowners, hunters, and wildlife. Working alongside landowners and on state Game Production Areas, GFP is focused on planting and improving all types of habitat including perennial grasses, woody vegetation, and pollinator plots across the state.

Providing access to these areas for hunters to enjoy is critical. In 2022, there was 1.48 million acres of private land enrolled in GFP’s public access programs. These lands are enrolled in GFP’s Walk-in Area, James River Watershed Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Controlled Hunting Access Program, Lower Oahe Waterfowl Access Area, Elk Hunting Access Area, and Aquatic Access programs.

Our largest program for private land access is our Walk-In Area program,” said Mark Norton, Hunting Access and Farm Bill Coordinator. “This year, we celebrate its 35th anniversary and look forward to continuing to build upon one of the most successful programs ever for public hunting access.”

Approximately 80% of land in South Dakota is privately owned, which makes these access programs critical for ample public hunting opportunities. The various programs accommodate the different hunting opportunities across the state and various needs of the landowner themselves.

“Our most popular programs for pheasant hunting are the CREP programs, both in the James River Watershed and now in the Big Sioux River Watershed, and of course the Walk-In Area program as well,” continued Norton.

The purchase of both hunting and fishing licenses, as well as the habitat stamp, directly supports these programs.

“The best investment a hunter can make is their license purchase,” stated Robling. “Conservation is a user-pay, public-benefit system, and the habitat stamp in particular is a perfect example of this.”

After celebrating another successful pheasant season, GFP is focused on the season to come. Habitat improvement projects are taking place throughout the spring and summer, and biologists continue to contact landowners about enrolling their land in public hunting programs. GFP’s goal for 2023 is to exceed 1.5 million acres of private land enrolled for public hunting, increasing from the 1.48 million acres enrolled in 2022. Hunters will be able to enjoy the results of these efforts when the next season begins.

“Our pheasant hunting traditions are strong in South Dakota,” concluded Robling. “We’re going to continue to build off these traditions and ensure the next generation is able to enjoy the same pheasant hunting success that we enjoy today.”

The 2023 traditional pheasant season runs from October 21, 2023, to January 31, 2024.


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