2012 South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Prospects

Jun 5, 2012

After a much over publicized and a bit misleading road count of our Pheasant numbers prior to last hunting last season, the actual number of harvested birds in 2011 shows a much brighter outcome.  The number of harvested birds has just been released and stands at 1,500,000 for 2011 versus 1,800,000 for 2010.  While on the surface, this may look like it was a bit more difficult for the hunters to bag a limit; we must take a couple of things into consideration in order to be able to take an accurate assessment.

2012 South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

2010 saw 100,189 Non-Resident Hunters and 72,465 Resident Hunters taking to the fields.  In 2011 the numbers were lower and stood at 95,077 Non-Resident and 69,120 Resident Hunters.  So, we saw a lower number of total Hunters, which helps to account for the lower number of Pheasants harvested.  We must also take into consideration that in my estimation as a Pheasant Hunting Outfitter who oversees 25,000 Acres in the State, the number of days spent afield by the Hunters we did have was drastically less than we have seen in the past.  Therefore, less Hunters and fewer days hunted amounts to a slightly diminished total harvest.

Yes, the harsh winter of 2009/2010 did have an impact on our Pheasants, but not nearly as much as some reports would have led folks from out of state to believe.  There were still plenty of birds to shoot and limits were very obtainable by those who had access to good land and hunted over competent dogs.  Hunting with a first-rate guide who has a feel for the bird’s ever changing behavior and habitat preferences depending upon seasonal preferences, weather conditions, and hunting pressure…is always helpful as well.

In stark contrast to 2009/2010, the Winter of 2011/2012 will most likely go down in history as one of-if not the mildest on record.  We saw very little snow and what we did see melted away quickly.  There were also no major storms or long periods of cold weather for the Pheasants to contend with.  Meaning the birds could easily find plentiful feed and were never under any stress whatsoever.  Also consider that we had a decent breeding population in great physical shape going into the winter months and we lost nary a bird to inclement weather.  Therefore, if we are to factor in that we lost few or no birds, compared to what we normally experience over the course of even a normal winter-our breeding population going into Spring is as high as it has ever been.  The net result is lots of Hens with sufficient Roosters to get the job done.  These birds are fat, sassy, and ready to promulgate.  I look forward to a very strong hatch and by Fall we should be once again seeing elevated population levels that are many times higher and far surpass what any other State could ever hope to achieve.

Obviously I am prejudiced as a lifelong resident of South Dakota…but facts are facts.  The first successful introduction of Chinese Ringneck Pheasants was made less than 15 miles from where I was raised and still reside to this day, so I obviously have strong opinions on the subject.  We quite frankly are the beginning, middle and end all of Pheasant Hunting and will always be.  If you have never treated yourself to a trip over here, you most definitely owe it to yourself to do so as these are, The Good Old Days.  For those of you who have, you know to what I am referring as it’s as good as it’s ever been.  Throw in the friendly atmosphere that South Dakota is famous for and you have the makings of a can’t miss trip.

There are plenty of opportunities with a substantial amount of Public Land available to hunt.  Although typically highly pressured during the first 6 weeks of the season, if you are willing to burn the extra shoe leather and work hard, reasonable success can be expected.  Your best bet will always remain by hunting Private Land.  Realistically, unless you have an established relationship with a farmer in the heart of Pheasant Country, it can be a bit tough to gain access to hunt as the popularity of the sport continues to grow.

But, there are a number of reputable outfitters who can assist you and all but assure 100 percent success rates and show you a heck of a good time in the process.  Not all of these operations are as spendy as you make think, either.  There are numerous options that run the gamut from being granted basic hunting rights and a do it yourself program, right on up to Corporate Level Luxury operations where every conceivable service and amenity is provided for.  Rest assured, the majority of operations offer something in between and are what most folks opt for.

I hope this has helped to give you a little insight into what to expect for the 2012 South Dakota Pheasant Season.  Do a little research, plan you trip according to your needs and desires and come on over and see us.  The birds are plentiful, the hospitality is second to none, and there is more than enough room for you to roam.

Dennis Foster is a Pheasant Hunting Outfitter and Fishing Guide, as well as an accomplished Outdoor Writer from Mellette, SD.  He can be reached by visiting