The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department is reporting a 20 percent decrease in the statewide pheasants-per-mile index compared to 2015 after completing its annual pheasant brood survey.
From late July through mid-August, GF&P surveyed 110, 30-mile routes across the state’s pheasant range to estimate pheasant production and calculate the pheasants-per-mile index. Officials count the pheasant broods, aka pheasant families.
This year’s statewide pheasant-per-mile index is 3.05, down from last year’s index of 3.83, when approximately 1.256 million roosters were harvested.
“There were some parts of the state I was a bit surprised and some parts that were a bit expected,” said Travis Runia, GF&P’s upland game biologist. “South of I-90, where there was higher-than-average snowfall and excessive precipitation in April and May, it was expected. For many of the areas of Sioux Falls, Yankton and maybe Mitchell, those areas it was a bit expected.”
Each of the past two years, the pheasants-per-mile index increased after a dismal count in 2013, when it landed at 1.52. That year, about 983,000 pheasants were harvested statewide, the lowest total since 1997.
According to the survey, 72 of the 110 routes showed a decrease in count. Survey results indicate the decrease was significant for the Chamberlain, Winner, Aberdeen, Huron, Mitchell, Yankton and Sioux Falls areas.
Mitchell’s count dropped 17 percent this year, from a pheasant-per-mile index of 4.55 in 2015 to 3.78 this year. Winner and Chamberlain both dipped 18 percent. Chamberlain went from 8.58 in 2015 to 7.01, and Winner was 5.97 to 4.88 pheasants per mile.
Runia explained this year’s survey conditions were not as ideal as past years. He said 88 of the 110 routes were completed at least one time under prime conditions, which include clear skies and calm winds, and when the dew is heavy on the grass.
“Usually, we’re a little higher than that,” Runia said. “And we really have to base our forecast off the data we have at hand. We’re really going to be anticipating some of those opening weekend reports from the field to see if there was a little bit of an underestimate from our survey.”
Other notable areas that saw declines in the pheasant-per-mile index were Brookings (4 percent), Watertown (12 percent), Huron (23 percent), Sioux Falls (28 percent) and Aberdeen (43 percent).
“Habitat continues to be at the forefront of the conversation and still remains a crucial factor in pheasant numbers,” GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler said in a release. “Bird numbers are higher in parts of the state where quality habitat conditions still exist, primarily on grasslands including those enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program as well as fields of cereal crops such as winter wheat. We continue to work hard in our Habitat Pays outreach efforts and in cooperation with landowners and partner organizations to provide an improved future for wildlife habitat in our state.”
South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 15 and runs through Jan. 1, 2017.