Aggressive marketing, a second year of extending the pheasant season through January, and a third year of paying South Dakotans to trap raccoon, skunk, fox, badger, and opossum failed to produce a higher pheasant kill during the last hunting season. Or maybe today’s hunters are just poorer shots:
More pheasant hunters bought licenses for South Dakota’s season last year, but they didn’t bag as many birds as hunters had two seasons ago, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission learned Friday.
The official estimated harvest was 1,067,423, according to Chad Switzer, a state Division of Wildlife administrator. He said that was a 3.7% decline but still likely led the nation.
Switzer credited more aggressive marketing outside South Dakota for helping increase the number of nonresident hunters. He said resident and nonresident hunters totaled 130,017 in the field, a 7% increase.
More hunters drove down the average harvest to just over eight birds per hunter, a decline of nearly 10 [Bob Mercer, “Fewer Pheasants Killed by Hunters in South Dakota,” KELO-TV, 2022.05.06].
Our pheasants harvest, the only consistent data point left on which we can make any objective comparisons after the Noem GF&P gave up on pheasant science, remains lower than it has been in most years starting with 2. Hmmm–maybe mowing those ditches early wasn’t such a good idea.
We turned kids loose to trap nest predators on March 1; their moms and dads and other grownups could start setting their own traps on April 1. Trappers get $10 per tail. Through May 5, the total number of tails submitted to Game Fish & Parks is 16,333. That’s 10.5% higher than the number of tails chopped and delivered by May 5 in 2021 and 51.6% higher than the tail-take by the same date in 2019, the inaugural nest predator bounty season. (I don’t include 2020, because the bounty was only $5, leading to much lower interest, and because coronavirus affected the availability of GF&P offices to receive the gruesome harvest.)
As usual, raccoons lead the kill, with 11,100 tails submitted, followed by 2,800 striped skunk tails, 2,200 opossum tails, 117 badger tails, and 109 red fox tails.
But remember: there’s no science supporting the original purpose of the Nest Predator Bounty Program, which was to reduce nest predators and increase the number of pheasants surviving from their spring nests so we could shoot ’em in the fall. There may be more science supporting the notion that trapping and chopping up the humble possum may give us more ticks and Lyme disease:
Lead resident Shari Kosel… the president and co-founder of the South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together group… said that her group agrees wildlife management is an important duty. But she said it should happen through science and biodiversity.
“Biodiversity is absolutely critical for the environment and, as we are learning, human health and survival,” Kosel said. “For just one example, opossums are superheroes in this regard as one opossum can consume up to five thousand ticks per season, helping to reduce cases of Lyme disease” [Del Bartels, “Nest Predator Bounty Program Continues Despite Opposition,” Pierre Capital Journal, updated 2022.04.11].
And the best science tells us that if we want more pheasants, we need to give them more habitat. Maybe the increasing enrollments in the Conservation Reserve Program will give our feathered friends the cover they need to hatch more targets for the guns of autumn.
The gratuitous killing of our land-bound friends continues until July 1.