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Mild = Wild

Mar 22, 2024

group of hunters prepared for pheasant hunting in south dakota with all needed gear for the hunt

SOUTH DAKOTA PHEASANT HUNTING

A prediction from Outfitter, Author, and Co-Host of Focus Outdoors TV

I realize every region claims to have wild extremes in weather. I would surmise that most who have spent a few years in the Dakota’s would rightly claim that our varying climate would be about as radicle as any imaginable.

It is not uncommon to have temps well above 100 in the heat of Summer and -30 or more below actual temp and -75 plus (if that can be considered a bonus) windchill. So, pushing a 200-degree difference in just the matter of a few short months. Having grown up in Spink County, SD, where it all started with the first successful release of the Chinese Ringneck Pheasant in 1908 and having the distinct honor of hunting on this hallowed ground; I am still absolutely amazed at how these birds manage to survive and indeed thrive through all the adversity.

A recent case in point being the Winter of 2022/23. Flat out nasty, by even our standards. Tons of snow that all eliminated the bulk of feeding opportunities in cropland. And the sheer cold and incessant winds we experienced. As feeding myself depends upon our pheasant hunting population, I was closely monitoring several areas all winter long. Surprisingly, most were surviving each subsequent blizzard. We then had two back-to-back Spring blizzards and quite frankly, I was hesitant to even take another look. With what Mother Nature dished out to cap a never-ending Winter, optimism soon took to pessimism as to what the results would be. To my utter shock and gleeful approval, most of them had once again, proved their resiliency and were out in numbers scratching down through even more snow for sustenance.

Our State Bird is not only the most beautiful of game birds, but they are also by far the hardiest. And, had once again demonstrated it. Thank God we had good numbers going into that Winter due to an extremely good hatch the previous Spring. So, there were sufficient hens-always plenty of Roosters to run their ranks-coupled with ideal nesting conditions provided us with another notable hatch. Which, our hunters thoroughly enjoyed chasing the Fall of 2023. One of the best South Dakota pheasant hunting seasons in memory…

South Dakota – says it all…

 

Now, as Winter wains and the Spring of 2024 is quickly approaching, we are in the best shape for a huge hatch that I have personally seen in my over 50 years of observing all things animal in our area. You see, we have basically not seen Winter. One week of cold weather with no snow restricting feeding efforts. Our birds simply shrugged that event off and were no worse for the wear. We have had a couple of brief snowfalls of a few inches that quickly melted away due to extremely warm temperatures. You may find this hard to believe, but we have seen many days with 40-to-60-degree highs, with most of the remainder around the freezing level. Snow shovels and in particular, windshield scrapers have been lightly used, if at all.

What this all equates to is the easiest winter for our pheasants that I can recall. When we are running our dogs and letting them “practice” by putting up birds for us to view and wait to shoot till next Fall, we are seeing mature hens that rival the size of first year roosters. The 2 and 3-year-old roosters have responded to the good life by putting the easy pickings into extending their tail feathers even further. Spotting lots of what I refer to as “tail draggers” strutting around. The distinctive line made between their tracks, which will also leave spur marks is one of the coolest things I have ever personally seen.

So, an already notably high population coupled with a leisurely go of it the last several months and once again ideal nesting conditions, should amount to blowing up a huge hatch of little ones. As the birds have endured no stress and are in optimal condition to procreate.

Longtails! 

 

Spring conditions can and do dictate nesting success. Even with an average to marginal hatch from so many laying hens, we will be seeing and shooting as many roosters as we have the last couple of outstanding seasons. If we, and the birds, have the good fortune of continued even decent weather, a respectable hatch would be predictable. Should that happen, I would speculate we are going to see the populations explode into what could match and even possibly exceed the hey days of the early 2000’s – at the peak of Conservation Reserve Program enrolled acres.

As always, cover is key, and we all need to be proactive in supporting conservation organizations. Whether that be on a local level or with the national organizations such as the good work done by Pheasants Forever. If we are to just put a fraction of the effort into preservation as we expend pursuing pheasants; we will witness the short-term benefits as well as provide the longevity needed for future generations to enjoy. Keeping our cherished pheasant hunting traditions alive and thriving.

You can join Pheasants Forever by following this link:  https://www.pheasantsforever.org/join

Looking for the ultimate upland hunting resource in South Dakota?  https://huntfishsd.com/

Interested in exploring both self and fully guided hunting options with the author and proprietor of Dakota Pheasant Guide in Mellette, SD?  Check out www.dakotapheasantguide.com and then give Dennis Foster a call.