Quality Habitat Means Abundance of Birds in South Dakota

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

“South Dakota is the best state in the country for pheasant hunting,” said Kevin Robling, GFP secretary. “The harvest numbers show exactly why – hunters will find abundant birds across the state all season long.”

Hunter reports throughout the 2022 season spoke of this abundance of birds, and harvest numbers back up their claims. The 2022 season saw the highest crop since 2016 and was 10% higher than the average of the last 10 years. These numbers translate to excellent bags for hunters, averaging 9 pheasants per hunter for the 2022 season.

South Dakota’s claim to be the top pheasant hunting state is supported by these pheasant per hunter numbers. While surrounding states typically see take rates of 3-6 birds per hunter, South Dakota has take rates of around 9 pheasants per hunter, as of 2022.

South Dakota’s focus on habitat and public access has resulted in large numbers of birds throughout the state, wide areas to attack them, and generally good hunting conditions.

“Habitat quality is key to abundant wildlife populations, which is why this is the number one priority for our department,” Robling continued. “Hunters also need to have access to these areas in order to enjoy these populations.”

GFP has 12 private land habitat biologists who work directly with landowners to identify habitat projects and access programs that will benefit landowners, hunters, and wildlife. Working alongside landowners and in the state’s game production areas, GFP focuses on planting and improving all types of habitat, including perennial grasses, woody vegetation, and pollinator patches throughout the state.

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

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

Approximately 80% of the land in South Dakota is privately owned, making these access programs critical to extensive public hunting opportunities. The various programs are tailored to the different hunting opportunities throughout the state and the various needs of the owners themselves.

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

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 the purchase of his license,” Robling said. “Conservation is a user-paid public benefit system, and the habitat stamp in particular is a perfect example of this.”

After celebrating another successful pheasant season, GFP is focusing on the upcoming season. Habitat improvement projects take place throughout the spring and summer, and biologists continue to contact landowners to enroll their land in public hunting programs. GFP’s goal for 2023 is to surpass 1.5 million acres of private land registered for public hunting, up from 1.48 million registered acres in 2022. Hunters will be able to enjoy the results of these efforts when the next season.

“Our pheasant hunting traditions are strong in South Dakota,” Robling concluded. “We are going to continue to develop these traditions and ensure that the next generation can enjoy the same success in pheasant hunting that we enjoy today.”

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