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Midseason Pheasant Hunting Report: South Dakota

CREP walk-in hunting areas in eastern South Dakota have provided some of the best available public pheasant hunting opportunities in 2012, but as the smoke in the background indicates, not all habitat has made it through this autumn standing. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

The calendar has turned to December, and that means just five weekends left in South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season. Overall hunting success appears to be spotty due to the effects of the ongoing drought. Many public and private areas of grass were hayed to help livestock producers in this tough year, and the quality of other grass stands is lacking. More alarming, as detailed in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, is the looming crisis in pheasant country, as the dry conditions have allowed the appetite for corn to reach new levels, resulting in the burning and dismantling of an unquantifiable number of wetlands, cattails draws, fence lines, shelterbelts and groves.

Here with on-the-ground hunting and habitat reports are Pheasants Forever staff members in South Dakota:

My family was able to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday with my In-Law’s, who farm in north-central S.D. I can think of no better way to spend “Black Friday” than to grab a dog and shotgun and go pheasant hunting! Joining me was my son, Zach, and my brother-in-law, Jeff, from Mitchell. Habitat conditions were quite a bit different than past years’ hunts, due to the drying up of wetlands, and with that, the desire to farm these areas.  However, we found the remaining habitat like shelterbelts, fence lines, and even harvested crop stubble (wheat) to be productive. From other reports I’m hearing, there seems to be a solid number of hens in all areas of the state, which is very encouraging.  So even in areas where bird numbers have not been as strong as last year, the potential for a solid rebound next spring is there. Hopefully, those hens will be able to find a quality place to nest. CRP anyone? Come on Washington, let’s have a Farm Bill!

-          Jim Ristau, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Chamberlain, S.D.


PF Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Jim Ristau found this midseason rooster at a public tract near Chamberlain.

I’ve heard mixed reports, but the overall consensus has been fairly tough hunting. In my experience, in the field where there is habitat, the birds will be found.  Much of my successes have been in cattails – long days for a bird or two.  And with the weather being as fair, birds have been wild and not holding for a young pointer.


-          Mike Stephenson, Pheasants Forever South Dakota Regional Representative – Emery, S.D.


Pheasant hunting has been a little slow in much of the state, the birds are bunched up and pretty wild. If you are in for a challenge, this is the year. You need to hunt quiet and fast, especially on public ground. I would head for the “off the beaten path” spots along the Missouri and out west for the best results. This is a different style of a hunt, as you’re not walking food plots and tall grass; rather you are going to be targeting woody draws and more linear cover.  On a more positive side, the reports on the grouse hunting have been excellent this year!

-          Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II – Volga, S.D



Hunting in northeast South Dakota has been pretty hit and miss. Some of our best success has come out of hunting new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) walk-in areas with quality grass right before sundown. We’ve been seeing good numbers of birds, but due to milder weather and no snow, they are busting out early and are tough to keep in gunning range.  Although it’s been difficult hunting, I think we should consider ourselves fortunate this year.  The rate of grass conversion and the amount of cattail sloughs being burned is jaw dropping. It will be difficult to say what the bird numbers will look like next year with the significant loss of habitat taking place this fall. 

-          Ben Lardy, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist – Webster, S.D.


In Sanborn and Jerauld Counties, most guys have been shooting a bird or two per day. I talked to a group of guys that was hunting last weekend on public and private ground south of Mitchell, and they saw plenty of birds.

-          Scott Groepper, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Woonsocket, S.D.


Have you been pheasant hunting in South Dakota this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.


Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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10 Responses to “Midseason Pheasant Hunting Report: South Dakota”

  1. Steve says:

    I live in Minnesota with family in the Beadle County and Deuel County areas. We got our days in with reasonable success. Not as good as it had been in the past couple of years but not as tough as it was back in the 80s when I was a kid. The birds were a bit more jumpy. I no longer have a dog to hunt with so lots of walking and lots of watching birds flee out of range ahead of us. But overall, we got shots and in some cases, we actually got birds. I have not seen the abundance of hens though and that worries me. Also, most of the walk-in areas we have hunted in Deuel County are now gone – plowed under and now are all black dirt. I hope for a mild winter because the birds are going to need as the cover is disappearing.

  2. Amy says:

    We hunted opening weekend in South Dakota this year. It was really sad. The walk-in areas were awful with no cover for the birds. Nothing but mud and very short corn stubble. The game production areas were more productive since they actually had cover. But this was the first time ever since I’ve been hunting in South Dakota (9 years now) that my husband and I did not get a single bird on opening day. We didn’t even have a single opportunity. The second day of opening weekend proved to be a little bit better because by that point we realized that only the game production areas were worth hunting. We found one area that held a lot of birds and the habitat was superb on that particular site. I should’ve had my limit if I was a better shot and my husband only had one opportunity and got one bird. The birds were holding tight for our pointing dogs though and that was nice. All in all, I’ve never seen such a dramatic loss of habitat and such low bird numbers. We left that weekend feeling very sad about how South Dakota has changed.

  3. Bret says:

    There are no areas along the missouri river that are off the the beaten path, for the past 2 years biologists have been telling everyong that asks to go hunt along the river. I am very concerned for the future of pheasant hunting in south dakota. In my opinion we are seeing a level of hunting pressure on the public ground that is unsustainable. Combined with the loss of habitat i fear the best days are behind us. This year the ratio of old birds to young is completely backwards. I see 8-10 old birds for every one that was hatched this year, but the counts showed a 18 percent increase, those numbers dont add up.

  4. Joel Conrad says:

    Two of us hunted NW of Aberdeen in the Eureka area the first week of November for 5 days. On this trip we only hunted public land – WMA’s, WPA’s and walk in areas. Almost every WMA and WPA had been either grazed or hayed. In one particular WPA that I have hunted for the past 6 years that had acres of big blue stem had been plowed under and replaced by a picked corn field. No grass was even left on the edges. Two years ago this WPA had a great population of pheasants and now there are none. Also, if SD contracts with a land owner to open the property as a walk in area this property should have pheasant habitat that will hold pheasants. Most of the areas that we visited had little if any habitat/cover to hold pheasants.

    Our first two days we did limit but hunted very hard from 10 am until nearly sundown each day. The remaining three days we took six birds and would not have taken this many if we had not been shooting very well. My Griffon and his Lab were completey worn out and beat up having to hunt as long as we did and the only place that we found birds was in heavy cattails.

    I have seen a major decline in habitat over the past two years which is very disappointing. Normally my son(s) and I make a second trip to this area in December but we are not going to make the trip this year. It’s not worth the expense to hunt areas that use to hold many birds and not there are few if any left.

    I am at a point where I am considering not going back to SD. I do have the option of going to local hunt clubs in central MN where I live. Less expensive and my Griffon will still be able to do what she loves to do.
    I love hunting SD wild pheasants but can’t justify continuing if the bird numbers and habitat continue to decrease.

    The SD DNR and Governor need to make some drastic but simple changes to protect and improve the valuable habitat and resource in the WMA’s and WPA’s. The state of SD advertises that it’s a great place for pheasant hunting but advertising will only go so far.

    I appreciate the opportunity to comment on my trip in November.

    Thanks, Joel

  5. Justin says:

    Great comments by everyone! South Dakota is unfortunetly having the same problem all the other states are and thats loss of habitat. We are losing some habitat with our public grounds but foruntely our private land owners are putting more and more habitat in than ever before. Our state government is working with our local legislatures to find ways to open more public access for hunters around the state but this all takes time. With $8 corn there is no way our federal programs can compete with this, fortunetly history proves prices won’t stay that high and hopefully we can get back to a plethra of CRP around the state. South Dakota is still hands down the #1 place to shoot pheasants and we truley appreciate all of our hunters that come chase the ring-neck pheasant with us! Please bare with us as we fight the same battle so many other states and conservation groups are, it will take time but SD will not lose site of the great tradition we have here in SD!

  6. Ben says:

    Although it is frustrating as a non-resident to come out and hunt the “usual” spots on public ground just to find out it has been hayed/grazed. One has to be mindful of the year we have had in terms of the drought and weather conditions. Due to the emergency haying and grazing release on CRP acres many of the walk-in areas lost their cover this summer. Although it seems like a negative impact in the short term, the more we can help our cattlemen keep their herds intact the better. More cattle on the landscape = more grass = more wildlife in the long run.

    As for the WPA being planted to corn, this is becoming a very common practice with state and federal wildlife agencies. Typically these areas have relatively poor cover and are planted to row crops for a couple of years. Once the soil is prepped and the weeds are controlled these areas will be planted back to a native stand of grass.

    I would definitely suggest contacting the GFP or local wildlife refuge before making a trip to get information on particular public areas that you have frequented in the past and plan on hitting up during your next trip, that way there will hopefully be no surprises when you arrive. This has happened to me countless times and I feel the frustration, however with a little research there are some ways to avoid those dead spots.

  7. Joel Conrad says:

    Sorry, I don’t buy it on the corn being planted in the WPA’s. Prairie grasses should be burned every 5 or 6 years not plowed under. The WPA that I mentioned had a wonderful stand of little and big blue stem that was in very good condition. The wildlife that made this WPA home are now gone. No habitat remains. A burning would have been the right and smart thing to do. I have a stand of prairie on my property that I had planted by Prairie Restorations 10 years ago . We manange it with controlled burning and it is amazing how well it is doing even in drought conditions.

    You are without question mis-informed.

  8. Shannon says:

    Joel – with all do respect, you are not a wildlife biologist. As Ben stated, we need to be focused long term, not short term. The WPA will be renovated for the better over the long term. Big and Little Blue don’t necessarily make it great – they will probably make it more diverse in the new planting with forbs and legumes for brood cover/food. Then they will try use burning/grazing/haying combos to manage it. Burning only works if you have a healthy, diverse native seed bank. And allowing cattlemaen to use some extra grass in the short term to help them through will help big time in the long term, keeping more cattle (i.e. grass) on the landscape. Ben hit it right on the head, and I happen to know that he is a wildlife biologist.

    You need to be careful of telling people they are uniformed – if you don’t quite have all the facts. Don’t be an armchair biologist – ask a biologist to explain why things are done and I think you will understand how we are managing these diminishing resources in difficult times to try get the most bang for our buck.

  9. Jay Searchnow says:

    I have been going to SD for 15 years. I did well this year. had 3 in my party with a limit each day. But friends of mine hunting 20 miles away had a difficult time. It all depended on the area.

    I see three trends. 1) burning cattails as mentioned 2) more cattle and land being used for grazing, especially this year with the drought but also overall 3) Land off limits because it is being held for deer hunters.

  10. A W says:

    Although “late to the party” adding my comments, the 2012 season in the Kimball/Platte area was very disappointing. 2012 was the worst harvest of our last 4 seasons. Roosters were limited,skiddy,and tough to harvest the weekend before Thanksgiving.
    Shannon, with all do respect–I would refrain from criticism of posters comments when your own SD wildlife bioligists weren’t exactly praising the 2012 mid-season results. Admittedly,99+% of out-of-state hunters are not WL bioligists, however they do add significantly to the SD economy. From my personal experience, I would venture to say the average out of state hunter adds $1,000 per man of their hard earned cash(license,lodging,food,etc) to the SD economy for a 3 day or more hunt.
    My suggestion, less advertising more spending on habitat. Word of mouth and success will bring more out of state hunters and $ than criticizing their requested comments. There are numerous other opportunities to hunt pheasants between my home location and SD. My 2 cents–PF/QF Member


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