MITCHELL, S.D. — For a third straight year, South Dakota’s pheasant harvest increased, but maybe not as much as some would have expected.
According to State Upland Game Biologist Travis Runia, hunters in South Dakota harvested 1.259 million pheasants in 2015. That was a slight increase from 2014’s 1.233 million harvest.
The upland game harvest statistics were released Friday morning to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department Commission based off an annual survey.
Runia said in an interview that hot weather early in the season may have played a role in the lower-than-anticipated harvest numbers.
“If you look at the opener for the resident-only season, we had temperatures 80, 90 and even close to 100 degrees in parts of the state,” Runia said.
According to the National Weather Service, October 2015 in Mitchell was 4.4 degrees above normal. The warmest day of the month was 93 degrees on Oct. 11, which was the second day of the three-day, resident-only season. That was 2 degrees shy of tying the high-temperature record for Oct. 11.
“Even during the first three to four weeks during the regular season, it was common to see high temperatures in the 60s and 70s, which probably made it tougher for some hunters, especially the dogs,” Runia said. “It also tends to scatter birds across the landscape and make them a little more difficult to hunt when it’s that unseasonably warm.”
Officials had higher expectations for the 2015 season due to promising August brood roadside survey count. The survey of 109 routes across the state by South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks ofﬁcials showed a 42 percent increase in bird numbers compared to last year. The total showed 3.8 pheasants per mile, similar to numbers from 2011 when there were 3.55 pheasants per mile in the preseason count. That season, 1.55 million pheasants were harvested.
When a good fall forecast in bird numbers is reported, hunter numbers typically increase, Runia said.
Last year, there were 150,954 licensed hunters, which includes residents, nonresidents and youth hunters. That was a 5 percent increase from 2014, when there were 143,340 licensed hunters, and a 14 percent increase from 2013 at 132,101 hunters.
South Dakota also saw a third-straight year on increased participation from nonresident hunters. There were 85,314 nonresidents who purchased a small-game license in 2015, up from 79,636 in 2014 and 74,636 in 2013.
Looking ahead, Runia said the 2016 season should have a positive outlook thus far.
“This is the third year in a row we’ve had a pretty mild winter over our pheasant range, and that’s always good for the survival of our pheasants,” Runia said. “The exception was the far southeast, especially around the Sioux Falls area, where a very small part of the state had a very snowy winter.”
The 2016 season is tentatively set to be 79 days, starting on Oct. 15 and running through the first Sunday in January 2017.
“Looking to spring now, it’s good to see some rain on the landscape the last couple weeks,” Runia said. “Grass is growing well, which should give some good concealment cover for the nesting hens. If we don’t have any abnormal weather over the next month or two, it could mean another increase to the population this fall.”