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Hunters Shoot Fewer Pheasants; Trappers Whack Tails Off More Nest Predators

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.


  1. cibvet 2022-05-09 07:10

    When you mess with Mother Nature, she will smack you. It is a lesson that most
    egotistical people will never learn.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-05-09 08:53

    Rapid City just killed 240 deer and nine had chronic wasting disease yet South Dakota Game, Fish, and Plunder is still systematically exterminating the cougar population that culls stricken critters and discourages wolves from migrating into the state.

    Kill off apex predators like wolves and cougars, spray atrazine, neonicotinoids and glyphosate on everything then wonder why cervids like deer and wapiti contract a prion contagion like chronic wasting disease.

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

  3. mike from iowa 2022-05-09 11:32

    Up to date stats on game bird mortality are hard to find. U of Oregon did an exhaustive study on bird mortality…

    and found the carrying capacity of any area (the number of birds that survive the worst of conditions) is mainly affected by proper habitat. Birds need sufficient food, water, nesting cover, cover from predators and populations can recover quickly under ideal habitat.

    This was nearly 20 years ago.

  4. sdslim 2022-05-09 16:01

    And Mike, every study I have read from the scientific community has stated the same thing. Habitat, habitat, habitat, which involves less tillage, more grass, less chemicals, cleaner water —– it is very simple.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-09 16:21

    Raccoons and Pheasants have coexisted nicely since Pheasants were introduced up by Redfield in 1916. Killing 11,000 coons and 2,200 skunks might decrease the amount of rabies in the environment though both species have a niche. Kill too many and we’ll be overrun by mice and gophers..same with badgers and skunks. They also manage to kill jackrabbits in the nest and in the 30’s when we killed off the furbearer predators, we were overrun by Jackrabbits. What we need for more pheasants is more habitat and fewer chemicals in the environment. Glad to see badgers and fox are too smart to get trapped in large numbers….

  6. mike from iowa 2022-05-09 17:20

    Coons are traitors to wild felines, especially large cats in Africa and India. Raccoons wear a black mask, which in the cat world signifies a daytime predator, i. e. cheetahs. All other big cats, the panther genus, have white below their eyes to help absorb light at night. Panthers can hunt during the day as well. Coons would be on their menus if they lived side by side.

  7. All Mammal 2022-05-09 21:53

    Now, you can’t get any more whack than this farce. We should teach the kids how to live. The only way we truly live is within a healthy ecosystem. Respect for the good earth is respect for self.
    Kids, please take heed:
    Don’t wantonly kill.
    Don’t kill unless you intend to utilize everything- not just the scraggly tail. The tail and fur are worthless in spring, after their undercoat is shed. Mothers have to nurse their precious young in the spring. Don’t kill mothers with helpless kits, kittens, pups, cubs, and joeys.
    Traps are not necessary if you are not famished; you might accidentally trap and kill an otter or leatherback or some other endangered/threatened little dude.
    Don’t trust Kristi Noem.
    Don’t obey without deploying your critical thought first.
    Don’t ever buy into supremacy of one over another.
    Think about your actions and how they effect you, your environment, and the future.
    Don’t relinquish your soul. Hang onto it. Kristi Noem says its only worth $10. Its priceless. Catching a glimpse of these cool little guys is magic.
    Ask yourself- do you want to live in a world without fox?
    Kids can’t inherit a planet without their wild cohorts.

  8. cathy 2022-05-09 23:21

    Predators have their uses–our nursery cat has pretty much eliminated voles and mice in the greenhouses. There’s a heckin chonk of a feral tomcat and a red fox that keep the outdoor rodentia, rabbits, groundhogs, and gophers under control (all of which can be extremely damaging to nursery stock). We also have hawks, owls, and kestrels that do their thing. Possums are cute and eat bugs and are pretty harmless. A possum once hid in the store for a few days and the worst it did was eat the hand sanitizer and poop on the fish tank. I’m not a fan of raccoons–they ruin the sweet corn, trash the pond, and eat the koi. Noem can have all the trash pandas, but the rest keep everything in balance.

  9. JW 2022-05-10 15:04

    When are we going to start challenging the “official” harvest estimates? We’re already pretty clear that there is no science supporting the “original purpose” of the Nest Predator Bounty farce so why aren’t we aware of the skewed fallacy of the harvest estimate that’s also missing sound science and statistic. That goof ball sub-sample hunter success survey hasn’t been ground truthed in decades, it doesn’t account for the flood of pen reared ditch parrots inhabiting road rights of way and public lands adjacent to shooting preserves and pay to hunt enterprises and it doesn’t account for an annual change in either pheasant population or hunter’s demographics that includes sample size based on license sales. Note the typical statistical slight of hand that states more hunters influenced the lower harvest rather than fewer pheasants. A blatant arm chair assumption. That whole message is as badly flawed as the Pheasant Brood Survey that GFP got rid of for lack of accuracy and veracity.

    And all this talk about habitat is missing the fundamental message found in any Hunter Education/Firearm Safety Handbook nationwide. The requirements for wildlife sustainability are simply stated as needs. Food, Water, Shelter, Space and Arrangement. What all emphasis on habitat is missing is adequate treatment of the meaning and purpose of the the latter two elements. All the habitat in the world won’t do much good without adequate space and connection within that space. And it won’t do much good unless it is optimally arranged. Somebody mentioned diversity and that is a simple way of describing arrangement. Most wildlife are critters of “edges” between ground cover types. A 100 acre tract of monotypic grass species without multiple diverse edges is nearly worthless for many gallinaceous birds. Look what GFP has done with many of it’s properties. Alleged Nesting covers with a few rows of overly dense cedar or juniper trees. No hardwoods, few shrubs, no broad leafs, no weedy cover, little mezic area development and monotypic food plots. No where close to the diversity that use to exist even 30 years ago. The outfit and it’s politics are a train wreck.

  10. mike from iowa 2022-06-22 13:15

    In iowa, in 2021, where the DNR doesn’t pay people to kill nest predators, pheasant hunters had their best year since 2008. A slight increase in hunter participation resulted in a 25% increase in rooster harvests- 377k and outlook is bullish for the 2022 season based on nesting conditions.

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