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16,292 Critters Killed, Probably Not Helping Pheasants Much

We’re a month and a week into the third year of South Dakota’s unscientific Nest Predator Bounty Program, wherein we pretend that killing raccoon, skunk, opossum, red fox, and badger will improve the pheasant numbers that we shamefacedly stopped counting in 2020.

The tails we do count and avidly report, because all those graphs make it look like Governor Noem is achieving something by offering $10 per tail. The count so far of tails hacked from trapped or shot (but not roadkilled!) critters is 16,292, or about 430 dead critters a day:

  • 11,400 raccoon
  • 3,000 stripey skunk
  • 1,600 opossum
  • 117 badger
  • 101 red fox

So 42% of the way through the season, we’re 33% of the way to the bounty cap of 50,000 tails. Step up that trappin’, fellers! The wily possum awaits!

All that trappin’ and choppin’ is mostly an East River affair:

SDGFP Nest Predator Bounty Map 20210509
SDGFP Nest Predator Bounty Map, retrieved and annotated with key 2021.05.09.

(Yes, the numbers on my homemade key are a bit odd: Charles Mix reports 401 tails and is marked in middle blue; Lake County reports 408 and is colored the next darker level of blue.)

Meanwhile, preferring growing to killing, Pheasants Forever and a bunch of landowners loaded up on corn, milo, and millet last month at the Aurora Co-op of Mitchell to cultivate winter wildlife food plots in and around Davison County:

Establishing and maintaining food plots requires time, money, and effort, but Pheasants Forever, which is as interested in protecting pheasants from predators as anyone else, says preserving and expanding habitat beyond narrow ditches increases pheasant numbers and reduces predation, while trapping may actually increase predation:

Less-expensive methods to improve game bird populations and nesting success exist. Experts have focused on the amount of habitat (composition of the landscape) and the arrangement (configuration) that increase nesting success by reducing the effectiveness of predators. Well-designed habitat projects can reduce predation by up to 80 percent.

Larger patches of nesting cover (more than 40 acres) have significantly higher rates of nest success than smaller sized patches. For example, in agricultural landscapes where the primary form of grassland habitat is road and drainage ditches, predator activity is concentrated on those smaller strips of cover. In landscapes having a greater component of grassland habitat, predator activity is diluted throughout the many patches of habitat. In addition to diluting predator activity, high grassland landscapes reduce the efficiency of predators.

Cover quality is also important. Dense blocks of undisturbed cover, such as Conservation Reserve Program acreage that is not mowed or grazed, are the most effective at reducing predation. Dense mixtures of grasses and forbs offering good residual cover after winter are highly selected by pheasant hens because they conceal nests from both avian and mammalian predators.

Early attempts to decrease the impact of predators on pheasant populations focused on reducing the overall number of predators, mainly through trapping. These efforts are effective for small areas but are dependent on three important factors.

  • Trapping efforts must reduce nest predator populations during the key period of recruitment—beginning prior to, and continuing throughout the entire pheasant nesting season (approximately 100 days).
  • Trapping needs to extend beyond the boundaries of the controlled area. Most nest predators have large home ranges and if trapping efforts fail to account for this, predators from surrounding areas will still negatively impact nesting success within the controlled area.
  • Most importantly, a successful removal program is a professional, full-time effort. The occasional removal of individual animals by hunters has very little impact on predator populations and trapping efforts that rely on bounties are destined to fail.

It is important to understand that sustained trapping efforts tend to stimulate reproduction by predators (compensating for artificially low densities) and create populations with proportionately more juveniles that wander more across the landscape thereby increasing the chances of encountering pheasants [Pheasants Forever, “Effects of Predators: Habitat Management Decreases Predation,” retrieved 2021.05.09].

It’s too bad our Governor hates all kinds of grass, actual and colloquial. If she’d get over her prejudices and posing, she might actually achieve some of her professed policy goals.


  1. Nick Nemec 2021-05-09 10:21

    Kristi Noem doesn’t care about science. She knows what she knows, science be damned.

  2. John Dale 2021-05-09 11:07

    So, what you’re saying is we need to hunt more of them in a wider area?

  3. Nick Nemec 2021-05-09 11:55

    No, what we are saying is that to increase pheasant numbers habitat must be improved.

  4. Eve Fisher 2021-05-09 12:41

    Not to mention that possums eat ticks. Lots of ticks. 5,000 a piece per season. Finest way to get rid of Lyme disease.

  5. grudznick 2021-05-09 16:08

    It probably helps pheasants some. Plus, it’s no doubt just good clean fun. Stop being haters of people just out killing the critters that need killing.

  6. Scott 2021-05-09 16:17

    What I noticed the 1st year and with what is shown above is the predators are being taken in areas that are not the pheasant hunting hotspots. The southern end of the Big Sioux River Basin is not where pheasant hunting happens in SD. In SE SD, I’d be willing to bet a lot of these predators would have been killed or runover with or without Noem predator program.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-05-09 16:28

    Oh Grudz, you don’t like anything masked including raccoons. I hate to be a peacock about this but the red fox, it’s like Soros is funding this hunt.

  8. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-09 16:53

    Well…we did this on a grand scale back in the day, and not much came of it as Pheasant numbers were down due to the use of DDT and poor habitat. With the banning of DDT Pheasants started coming back, but they came back strongest in places that were not intensively farmed (the Rosebud counties, along the Missouri, even west river where pheasants had been almost unknown>) That brought the great Lyman county, Gregory County, Winner pheasant boom.Pheasants struggle with fence row to fence row farming. period. Predators have a slight, if that, effect on pheasant numbers. Why is the Governor ignoring the GFP Biologists???

  9. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-09 17:20

    Well..Grudz, in my opinion you can go ahead and shoot all the skunks and raccoons you see during daylight. If you see these guys during the day, they are likely rabid. Badgers are a great Plains predator…wonderful animal, ferocious. Leave them alone. They have a niche. Red fox, too. Great animal and clean up on rodents. Possums??? Must be global warming. I never encountered or heard of a possum when I was a kid and I spent a lot of time out of doors. Coyotes? Men have been killing them on sight for 300 years and there are now more Coyotes in more places than ever before. Kill them and they just have more pups. The only effective predator of Coyotes are Wolves.

  10. grudznick 2021-05-09 17:41

    Mr. Blundt says

    Men have been killing them on sight for 300 years and there are now more Coyotes in more places than ever before. Kill them and they just have more pups.

    Can you imagine the impact on our humane societies if we did not shoot coyotes on sight? It is indeed a stubborn critter that starts birthing more pups after being shot. When you kill a coyote and it starts birthing, my experience is that it was either a very pregnant bitch or you are about to get a handful of cute but very vicious zombie coyote pups. And I, for one, do not believe we need more vicious zombie coyote pups.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-05-09 17:42

    Interesting observation, Scott. We don’t seem to be targeting the bounty program very well. I wonder: do the high-tail-count counties have higher populations of raccoons, possums, and skunks?

    I’d love to overlay the tail bounty numbers map with other data maps, like counts of hunters per county, counts of pheasants bagged during hunting season, and, of course, some sort of pheasant population count.

  12. Mark Anderson 2021-05-09 17:44

    Arlo, I don’t think the Northern wolves have ever beaten the Coyotes. I know, its a cheap shot, but what can I say?

  13. ds 2021-05-09 17:54

    Rabbits, moles, voles and field mice here in western South Dakota are out of control…Hmmm

  14. Mark Anderson 2021-05-09 18:16

    Grudz I don’t think it would have any affect on our “humane” society if we didn’t shoot Coyotes, they have adapted to living in cities and humans can’t do a thing about it. Take that road runner, they really have a genius for living, unlike the Red Fox who only made it to 68. Its not at all like the invasion of the Chinese pheasants who are definitely not supporting the proud boys. It is South Dakotas state bird, I guess when you shoot one its like taking out a communist for the boys who pay to hunt them, a very capitalistic adventure, totally unnatural.

  15. grudznick 2021-05-09 18:25

    The humane society, a non-profit organization, relies heavily upon donations which would dry up and not keep pace with all the coyote/feral-dog population if we did not prune those face-eating beasts who roam about.

    The humane society, a very libbie organization, would be overrun.

  16. Porter Lansing 2021-05-09 18:26

    It’s like LDS Church, grudz.

    When grizzled, vicarious, old goats like you marry teen aged girls and start having babies by the dozens, the boy children grow up and compete with you old husbands for the young ladies affections.

    These young men are then ostracized and banished from the colony.

    They end up homeless in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Denver, looking for love.

  17. mike from iowa 2021-05-09 19:26

    iowa and Northern Mississippi are overrun with magats and we need magat population control badly.

  18. grudznick 2021-05-09 19:32

    If only grudznick was a religious man, Mr. Lansing. Instead, I remain as just the fellow voted the most loved Conservative with Common Sense at this here blogging now 5 years and counting.

  19. Richard Schriever 2021-05-09 20:05

    grudz “It probably helps pheasants some.” – like Gnome – knows what he knows – science be damned.

  20. Richard Schriever 2021-05-09 20:15

    grudz – “Can you imagine the impact on our humane societies if we did not shoot coyotes on sight?” Once again exhibits his preference for engaging in life in an imaginary world vs. a science-based reality. Consistently ad predictably psychically errant.

  21. Daniel Buresh 2021-05-10 09:42

    This is an unethical and immoral program that no true hunter or conservationist would take part in. Real hunters believe in the humane killing of animals when they are harvested and this doesn’t allow for that when a nest full of young starve to death.

  22. jerry 2021-05-10 10:09

    Owls and hawks will have plenty of pheasant food in the winter and not much competition either. Thanks Ma NOem for the Chinese food.

  23. maxwell 2021-05-10 11:03

    Three things help pheasant numbers most: 1) Habitat 2)Habitat and 3)Weather. Multiple studies have shown that occasional amateur predator trapping is not effective at increasing game birds. Since we can’t control the weather, and amateur trapping is not effective, maybe what John Cooper and others have recommended for years should be stressed: more habitat.

  24. Donald Pay 2021-05-10 11:24

    The species I’d like to see eradicated in South Dakota is the pheasant. If I were Governor, we’d have a bounty on that species.

  25. Porter Lansing 2021-05-10 11:59

    grudznicks fantasy friend group, “Flathead Connies Without Sense” are notably the worst tippers in RC and are about to be scourged and scorned from and at all proper breakfast joints.
    – *backroom cook’s gossip

  26. mike from iowa 2021-05-10 14:39

    Hawks and owls have federal protection and it is quite burdensome to most of us to pay federal fines.

    Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act since 1918.

  27. mike from iowa 2021-05-10 17:18

    Why doesn’t someone interview pheasants and ask what they want for predator control? Is that such a hard thing to do? Maybe asking if they prefer moar/better habitat or moar/better predator slaughter.

    Forget asking magats to do this. They know pheasants came from China and they probably believe they voted for Biden.

  28. John W 2021-05-10 21:01

    Grudz forgets the well-accepted coyote population dynamic that has been on center stage since his canine hating brethren began shooting, poisoning, trapping, and aerial gunning close to 100 years ago. THE MORE YOU KILL THEM, THE MORE YOU WILL HAVE THE FOLLOWING YEAR. And the greater the incentive for the animal to pioneer into territories that once belonged to adults that caused no harm to anything except for perhaps a vole or carion left by domestic animal husbandry. This state and nation has spent literally billions of dollars on predator removal without the slightest bit of information or confirmation that all that slaughter and mayhem actually saved one domestic critter. Failure to recognize the obvious is a universal malady that infects those engaging in rural gossip and folk tales.

  29. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-11 16:34

    Well…in the 30’s, during the depression with more than 35 % unemployment in South Dakota, men went out and trapped aggressively and bounty hunted as it was about the only source of revenue available. While furs weren’t worth much, they were worth something. Over 400,000 predators were trapped or turned in for bounties in the first four years of the Great Depression. What happened??? The state was over run by Jackrabbits. Thousands of Jackrabibits everywhere.For more information on this read “A New Deal For South Dakota” Drought, Depression and Relief 1920-1941 by R. Alton Lee, retired History Professor at USD. its available through South Dakota Historical Society Press.

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