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Optimism brings more pheasant hunters to South Dakota

Bill Hansen, of Petoskey, Mich., hunts the Chip Allen Game Production Area in Southwest Miner County on the first day of pheasant hunting season back in October. Matt Gade / Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. — More pheasants, more pheasant hunters.

That pattern is holding true again this season as South Dakota small game license sales for residents and nonresidents have risen compared to last year’s numbers.

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department says there have been 66,548 nonresident small game licenses sold through Sunday, Dec. 2. That’s a 1.59 percent increase compared to the same weekend last year. The additional 1,063 licenses bring in $128,623 more revenue compared to 2017.

More hunters are hitting the fields to chase pheasants mostly due to the state’s annual pheasant brood survey, which this year showed a 47 percent increase in bird numbers compared to 2017.

Scott Simpson, GF&P administrative resources chief, said sometimes it’s difficult for nonresidents to make a quick decision to travel to South Dakota between the release of the August roadside survey and the opening of pheasant season in late October.

“Can they hurry up and make a plan to get here?” Simpson said Thursday. “If you’re in Minnesota, Iowa or Nebraska, that works out fairly well. But if you’re coming from Georgia, Florida or Michigan, maybe there’s a year lag time where you see numbers are back up and you plan for the following year.

“Hopefully we have another positive year like we did this year, and we’ll see license numbers increase across the board. We want to see more people out there hunting, and an increased pheasant population will certainly spur some of that activity.”

Resident small game license sales are up 1.68 percent, with 16,704 sold thus far this year.

The third measuring tool GF&P uses when tracking pheasant license sales is the South Dakota combination license, which allows for both hunting small game and fishing. Sales for combination licenses dropped 3.83 percent from 2017, Simpson said. This year, 45,294 have been sold through Sunday, compared to 47,031 in 2017.

“The decrease we see in the combination license, most of that took place earlier in the year and is probably more of a reflection on the fishing side than hunting,” Simpson said.

South Dakota’s pheasant season still has about a month to go and ends on Jan. 6, 2019.

Travis March, GF&P conservation officer based in Chamberlain, said hunting success this year seemed to be better than in 2017. The August roadside survey showed Chamberlain had the largest population of pheasants per mile in the state at 5.29 birds.

March is working his second pheasant season as a conservation officer and said he saw an uptick in non-resident pheasant hunters this year.

“People were optimistic going into the regular opener and it seemed to be busier this year, too,” March said. “People were a lot more confident in driving however far they needed to come to South Dakota and hunt.”