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Pheasant and Non-Resident Hunting Numbers Depend on Investing in Conservation

Long-time Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors writer Dennis Anderson loves South Dakota, or at least our hunting. He refers to us as the “Helen of Troy” of all states for hunters of pheasant and other prairie birds. But he notes that the bird bounty that attracts non-resident hunters like himself to South Dakota has risen and fallen with big federal (read: socialist! collective, non-market decisions about allocation of resources!) investments in conservation:

During a six-year period beginning in 1958, when the federal Soil Bank farmland-set-aside program was in force, South Dakota was home to nearly 10 million pheasants, according to state wildlife officials, with annual harvests during the period exceeding 3 million ringnecks.

By 1976, with Soil Bank long since expired, South Dakota’s estimated pheasant population had plummeted to 1.4 million, with a relatively scant 372,000 falling to hunters.

The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) started in 1985 marked the beginning of the state’s most recent pheasant boom. By 2007, more than 1.5 million South Dakota acres had been planted in bird-friendly cover crops, with producers profiting from direct U.S. payments and in some instances from higher commodity prices.

Hunters benefited as well, with an estimated state ringneck population in 2007 of almost 12 million.

In the years since, the federal government has reduced the number of acres eligible for CRP, and as a consequence, croplands have expanded and South Dakota bird numbers have fallen, as have non-resident hunter participation and hunter harvests [Dennis Anderson, “Non-Resident Hunters Vote on South Dakota Pheasant Plan by Not Showing Up,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2021.08.21].

South Dakota may be able to compensate with private reserves, but Anderson notes that non-resident hunter numbers will continue to decline if wild bird numbers continue to decline, because where’s the fun in shooting tame birds?

…to pheasant hunting purists, or traditionalists, the idea of paying hundreds of dollars a day to stay in a lodge and shoot released birds, usually in a large group, is akin to, well, shooting fish in a barrel.

Far better they believe, as do I, to tramp either public or private land, perhaps with a buddy and a favorite dog or two, in search of wild pheasants [Anderson, 2021.08.21].

Anderson notes the “2021 Ringneck Outlook” pheasant marketing flyer put out by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks to tout the opportunities to shoot our state bird this fall. That flyer makes the short-sighted claim that the 2020 pheasant harvest was “spectacular”, without mentioning that even with an extra 27 days to rustle up birds, hunters last year bagged fewer pheasants than they did in 26 of the preceding 39 years. The flyer also claims that “local duck and pheasant nest success has been positively influenced” by the Nest Predator Bounty Program, even though the state has produced zero empirical evidence to counter the scientific research indicating that paying amateur trappers $10 for every tail of raccoon, skunk, opossum, badger, and red fox they can find does not have a significant long-term effect on pheasant populations (read more science here and here).

If we want to keep hunters like Anderson coming and expending their ammo and their discretionary income in South Dakota, we need to get back to science: drop the trapping hoopla, pay farmers to conserve habitat, and get back to counting pheasants so we have real science on which to base our decisions.


  1. John 2021-08-22 11:39

    The bonadfide liars and propagandists are in charge of the SD GFP.

  2. mike from iowa 2021-08-22 12:17

    If grain prices are rising, good luck getting farmers to plow up cropland for CRP acres. Buffer strips can be an alternative source of bird habitat, but….

  3. grudznick 2021-08-22 13:09

    Mr. mike, ‘tho he be from Iowa, is righter than right. Buffer strips serve multiple purposes. grudznick is a big fan of buffer strips.

  4. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-08-22 15:59

    Good gracious golliness, this thread reminds me of the time I encountered Dick Cheney’s, The Prince of Darkness, 12-vehicle convoy of armored gigantic SUV’s with totally blacked out windows. This was when he was still VP and he was either to-ing or fro-ing from the Paul Wilson/Johnson/Nelson/Larson “Ranch” near Gettysburg. Betcha that old MF is still killing tame birds.

  5. grudznick 2021-08-22 16:10

    If you’ve not hunted at the Paul Nelson Farms, Ms. Faribank, you are missing out on a fine experience. It’s not just about the shooting.

  6. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-08-22 16:30

    Well, I’ve not hunted at the Paul Nelson Farm, and the only reason I was that far away from Hot Springs was to rescue a dog.

  7. kurtz 2021-08-22 16:56

    The introduction of the Chinese ring-necked pheasant to South Dakota and other northern plains states is one of most destructive examples of ecoterrorism in US history. Pheasants don’t eat grasshoppers but native grouse, woodpeckers, wild geese and turkeys sure do.

    While the pesticide industry that greases Republican politicos don’t give a whit about anything but profit native species are being driven from historic habitat by European colonizers. Desertification driven by agricultural practices, overgrazing, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and urban sprawl have turned much of the United States into scorched earth.

    Add the absence of cultural fire, the extirpation of apex predators, the resulting rise of mesopredators, increasing numbers of domestic dogs and cats then stir in a melange of industrial chemicals with climate change and voila: red state collapse on parade!

  8. grudznick 2021-08-22 17:25

    Well, it’s a nice place, even if you fellows hate it because Vice President Cheney once hunted there. But try and show just a little respect, Mr. Nelson died in tornado just a year ago or so. Nobody should have to die in a tornado, or of hunger or covid bugs, so show a little respect, please.

  9. Arlo Blundt 2021-08-22 17:32

    well..Jack Danials aside, (I preferred Old Granddad, when circumstances allowed me to drink top shelf booze), conservation is the whole ballgame when it comes to preserving pheasant hunting in South Dakota. I started hunting on soil bank , as a teenager and it hooked me on that great sport Its hard to describe just how great the hunting was in the early 60’s.Buffer strips and weedy ditches are absolutely essential these days…we used to shoot the majority of our birds out of ditches and along the railroad right of way. As much as I dislike the ethics of private hunting reserves, I do give them credit for their conservation work, which in many cases is excellent habitat rehabilitation and preservation. GFand P has always been political and needs to return to good science to save our hunting tradition.

  10. jerry 2021-08-22 17:35

    Mr. grudznick, I agree. I may not have agreed with Paul Nelson’s politics, but his word was good, along with the checks I received and always on time. The guy worked hard and had some great ideas.

  11. Mark Anderson 2021-08-22 17:57

    Pheasant hunting in the early 70s sucked. That’s why after our high school classes we hunted ducks. When we came back to visit our parents in Highmore and Hosmer much later on it was amazing to see all the pheasants in the fields just outside of town. I longed for my double barrel 20 gauge. It’s nice to know how all that happened.

  12. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-08-22 18:22

    Mr. grudznick, I really don’t give two hoots in hell about Mr. Nelson’s demise or his politics, nor did I bring them up. What I COMMENTED upon was Cheney’s predeliction for slaughtering tame, caged birds at the “farm” where he did. I shall respect those whom are respectable, and you are not that judge for me. Bonnie

  13. Porter Lansing 2021-08-22 18:24

    grudznike asking for respect?

    After what he did to Debbo?

    Apologize, now!


  14. grudznick 2021-08-22 19:04

    Mr. Nelson deserves respect.
    grudznick has ruled. It is done.

  15. mike from iowa 2021-08-22 19:28

    Like Cory says, magats depend on “socialist” programs for every aspect of their lives and governments. Can’t prop up capitalism without socialism. Capitalism thrives best with a huge lump sum of socialist bucks for the wealthy.

  16. Richard Schriever 2021-08-22 20:48

    I even got a farmer to agree with me that farmers are the most societally dependent population group in the country, right next to the carbon fuels folks, this Summer.

  17. jerry 2021-08-22 21:01

    If you can make a buck or thousands reaching into the pockets of those that will pay it, why denounce those who thought of it first? We all seem to be jealous of being exposed for what we do when we go to places as tourists. We buy some trinkets or a t shirt or fish in a stocked pond that is full of fish that only know they will be fed when something hits the water.

    I remember many years ago hunting in the soil banks and drinking fresh water from the live creeks. We traded all of that for the few of the kings men who have the money to shoot these tasteless birds while pocketing huge sums for their farms. Man, you have to cook them in flour and condensed mushroom gravy to gag them down. Only the mashed potatoes were worth it and of course, the pie. I never cared for the buzzards and preferred natural, native grouse.

    The live creeks of good clean water are mostly gone now mostly because of over farming to the very edges of the grass draws that purified that water. Let the rich dine on these buzzards as the buzzards will dine on them.

  18. cibvet 2021-08-22 23:48

    Grutz is correct with “it’s not about the shooting”. It’s about the young ladies brought in to serve the whisky or whatever. If game farms are unaffordable, then it was trips to Lesterville, or Winner or Dallas or north of Mitchell to name a few of the so called hunter haunts.I’m sure there are others that I missed.

  19. John Dale 2021-08-23 04:14

    SD GFP does a good job of keeping game harvest and public/private hunting lands orderly.

    I have met a lot of officers through the years, and GFP has always treated me right.

    I suggest you get to know your local law enforcement (GFP included), and let them get to know you.

    You are generally good people, they are generally good people, and they need to see that, and vice versa.

  20. John Dale 2021-08-23 05:08

    There is a big problem with sex trafficking everywhere in the world.

    I don’t think GFP is the place to start with correcting that problem.

    Start with the teachers’ union who is teaching broken weaponized sexual proclivities that do not have good ROI for personal life satisfaction in the longer-term.

    Start with authors of weaponized smut used to disrupt healthy sexual dispositions.

    Loving encounters between two people of opposite genders who want to partner to have and raise a family is fully healthy self actualized sexual disposition.

    Sex is not an end.

    Trafficking in sex may be more evil than trafficking in poisoned water.

  21. M 2021-08-23 05:49

    What a sad state of posts. And once again, 2 men are responsible. The same 2 men that are driving others from reading or posting. They can’t help themselves because they are Republicans and they do whatever they want because they can. That’s the problem with this state and whole country. The men who do what they want, say what they want, and there are no consequences.

    Sex trafficking has nothing to do with conservation but out of state hunters do come here expecting more than killing pheasants, like a little forced sex on the side, just like fishermen, and bikers for the rally. John Dale and his contrary life belongs with these types of dominant men.

    Grudz, you are responsible for offending lots of women just as much as John Dale, in fact you offend decent men as well. It’s whiners and wimps like you guys that make me sick. I’m tired of you…..pricks.

  22. Bob Newland 2021-08-23 19:03

    Real science? Evidence? Documentation? You pinko!

  23. M 2021-08-29 06:49

    Thank you kurtz, you are spot on!!!!

    Introducing pheasant and then killing indigenous animals to support the hunting business is just like the immigrants that were introduced to S.D. grasslands, who in turn hoed them up and planted other crops that RELY on chemicals and other killing agents. These people support BIG AG.

    If the Republicans get a trifecta in Washington, the Badlands are on the list of areas that Noem and her greedy threesome would love to mine. And they’d love to get their hands on reservation land for the coal and gas.

  24. kurtz 2021-08-29 07:46

    Every ag product, meats both wild and domestic not grown organically in South Dakota is contaminated with atrazine, neonicotinoids, glyphosate, dicamba, DDT, mercury, lead, cadmium, PFAS and other toxins and pathogens. That’s true nearly everywhere in the United States. Country of Origin Labeling was repealed in 2015 to shield American meat from scrutiny.

    Democratic pheasant shooters are boycotting South Dakota. According to SD News Watch non-resident hunters just aren’t going to South Dakota to hunt anymore.

  25. grudznick 2021-08-29 09:38

    That is great news, Lar!

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