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Pheasant, Hunter Numbers Far Down from Historical Peaks

My morning paper earns its subscription fee this morning by dedicating a full page to data:

Aberdeen American News, SD historical pheasant stats, 2018.10.19, p. 10B.
Aberdeen American News, SD historical pheasant stats, 2018.10.19, p. 10B.

The Aberdeen American News heralds tomorrow’s big pheasant opener with historical pheasant and hunter counts since 1919. Some salient figures:

  • Largest pheasant population: 16,000,000 in 1945, compared to 4,600,000 in 2017
  • Largest pheasant harvest: 7,507,000 in 1945, compared to 828,709 harvested in 2017.
  • Most licensed resident pheasant hunters: 144,000 in 1963 (that’s 21.3% of an my estimated 676,012 South Dakotans in that year), compared to 52,538 in 2017 (6.04% of the state population)
  • Most licensed non-resident pheasant hunters: 103,231 in 2007, compared to 67,232 in 2017.
  • Largest average harvest per hunter: 54.1 in 1944, compared to 6.9 in 2017.

Pheasants are down 71% from their historical peak 73 years ago, when I’m willing to wager there was a lot more habitat in untilled grass and more diverse, non-factory-model crop fields. Resident hunters are down 64% from their historical peak 55 years ago, when there were 22% fewer South Dakotans and, I suspect, far fewer private hunting resorts reserved for higher bidders.

I invite the old-timers to tell us whether it was any easier to buy a trusty 12-gauge back then than it is now. But it looks like all the gun worship in which certain politicians and gun manufacturers have steeped our local politics hasn’t done anything to make hunting a growing sport in South Dakota.


  1. Porter Lansing 2018-10-19 12:55

    Road hunt the gravel from North of Oldham to North of Clark. ✯✯✯✯✯

  2. grudznick 2018-10-19 13:36

    I blame Klouchek.

  3. mike from iowa 2018-10-19 13:47

    MITCHELL, S.D. – South Dakota saw a 47 percent increase from last year in its annual pheasant brood survey, according to a report issued by the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.

    From August 28th, 2018.

  4. John Sweet 2018-10-19 13:56

    I bought a used 16 gauge single shot for $5.00 at the local hardware circu 1959.

  5. Debbo 2018-10-19 20:16

    The ’60s is what I remember best. I was too young to hunt, but my cousins and I walked trees and fields till we got pooped. The farm was in Hand County between Miller and Redfield.

    Mom’s relatives came up from Iowa and we had a mass of hunters and walkers. We started with the shelterbelt north of the house. In that half mile everyone had their limit. We brought it back to the house and went back out. We hunted shelterbelts and cornfields and roadhunted from one field to the next. Twice every afternoon we’d have to come back to the house to unload. We stocked our freezer for the winter and the Iowans took home as much as they could.

    No one paid to hunt anywhere. If you knew your neighbor didn’t hunt you asked to hunt their field or shelterbelt, then thanked them with some dressed birds. There was no problem getting all the pheasants you wanted.

    Rural mailcarriers did the annual pheasant count for the state. Does that still happen?

  6. John 2018-10-19 21:02

    Criminal trespass laws were/are a solution in search of a problem. The legislature and GFP cut the throats out of small communities, hunters, wildlife management, and even the GFP budget – and destroyed the North American model of wildlife management. The wildlife now belong to those who hold or pay for trespass “rights”; not the public.
    Another interesting data point would be how many game wardens were there in 1945; 1962; 2018. Contrast then game wardens per hunter; per pheasant; etc.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-19 22:23

    $5 for a used shotgun?John Sweet, how much were shells?

    In the 1970s, my dad had his own shell loader.

  8. mike from iowa 2018-10-20 07:52

    Since pheasants are immigrants from China, Drumpf has ordered every bird to register with ICE and pay a tariff to his Orangeness for the privilege of being slaughtered by ammosexuals in goofy looking orange vests and hats.

    Only ringneck pheasants are subjected to registering and tariffs.

  9. mike from iowa 2018-10-20 08:01

    Debbo- this is how scientific research (pheasant counts) is conducted in a modern up to the 21st century game department does it.

    The statewide survey takes place Aug. 1-15.

    The survey is conducted by Iowa DNR staff who drive 218, 30 mile routes on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. Hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, which makes them easier to count.

  10. mike from iowa 2018-10-20 08:05

    16 gauge shotguns fell out of favor once but are making a comeback for nostalgia purposes. I read that once in a Fur Fish and Game magazine.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-10-20 09:12

    What is the preferred gauge for shooting immigrant pheasants nowadays?

  12. Porter Lansing 2018-10-20 10:25

    The immigrant pheasants, brought to SD in 1911 by Watertown’s Frank Bramble, are no more. Their descendants however, go down best with steel six shot from a 12 gauge pump shotgun. Personally, I have lifetime permits to shoot out a vehicle window, in three states but don’t need more birds than the ones gifted to me. *Chefs get lots of game. 😉

  13. Porter Lansing 2018-10-20 11:06

    PS … The perfect road hunting vehicle is the Tesla S ($74,500). Comfortable and quiet. And, because they’re not sold or popular in SD, it’s easy to recruit ladies to drive for you, while scouting the wily cocks. 😉

  14. Rorschach 2018-10-20 11:46

    The consolidation of family farms has loosened our ties to the land. My family is spread all over the country now, and it’s been years since I had a place other than public land to hunt pheasants. Used to be you could go somewhere not too far away without spending a lot of money. That’s not the case anymore for most people. It’s too bad.

  15. mike from iowa 2018-10-20 12:29

    If I was young and dumb all over, I’d drop them hammer on them with trusty old ’97’ Winchester pump, 12 gauge with full choke and 7 and a half size shot. (trap loads)

    Six shot would maybe be a better choice, but my ex-FIL had boxes of trap loads sitting around begging to get used and reloaded.

    The best gun for anyone is the one they are comfortable with and can shoot effectively. They don’t have to cost thousands of dollars, either.

  16. Porter Lansing 2018-10-20 12:35

    Sounds like fun, Mike. Here’s a story. The last pheasant hunting trip to S.D. I brought two boxes of three year old shells. After wounding a couple birds that got hit square, I borrowed enough shells until I got to a gas station and bought new ones. Never wounded another bird all week. One guy had brought a clay pigeon thrower and the old shells got used for that.

  17. mike from iowa 2018-10-20 14:12

    I miss the thrill of nearly stepping on a rooster and having it explode out of the grass and scare the bejeezus out of me. I don’t miss lugging that old 12 gauge around all day.

    In all the years I hunted pheasants I never once got a three bird daily limit. Two birds always seemed enough and I usually gave them away.

    But I did my part buying hunting license, habitat stamp, gas for road hunting, snacks, soda etc. I even picked up my empty shotshells for reloading. Plus I blew a few openings in the sky to let carbon escape.

  18. Debbo 2018-10-20 14:37

    Mike, I remember that thrill. I remember the first pheasant I got too. I was probably 12-14, had the 410 and was in the back of the pickup as we headed to another field. A rooster jumped up from the ditch and flew straight away from me. I jerked the gun up to my shoulder, aimed, fired and the bird disappeared! What?! “Ya got it!” Someone had to tell me, then I popped over the side of the pickup to find my bird.

    Later I hunted with dad’s Remington 12 gauge with a long barrel. I wasn’t a good snap shooter, but give me a little time to draw a bead and I rarely missed. That gun and I suited each other.

  19. leslie 2018-10-20 18:54

    Best memory: left behind up in a tree happily munching MacIntosh apples after roadside lunch as the rest of the family walked a sunny draw up to an earthen dam. Worst memory: tie between the old man suddenly murdering a den of skunks (seemed pretty violent); and snide remarks from hunters dressed to the nines Saturday night at the Winner restaurant at our old jeans and tennis shoes.

    I used an old 16 ga single shot that was my Grama’s from Appalachian VA when my Mom was a kid, for many decades. Last gun I’ve ever needed.

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