Posts Tagged ‘South Dakota pheasants’

Field Report: Did Late Winter Snows Hurt Minn., N.D. and S.D. Pheasants?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Photo courtesy of NRCS

Snow cover was common well into April in many parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota. Photo courtesy of NRCS

While the calendar turned over to spring in March, winter hung on much longer in the Upper Midwest, where parts of Minnesota reported the snowiest April on record, two feet of snow collected in Bismarck, North Dakota and South Dakota saw its share of April snowstorms.  Also an important factor is a late winter’s slowing down of “greening” nesting grasses to make the quality cover that is available attractive to hen pheasants.

Cold April temperatures can be deadly for pheasant nests already on the ground, but with the way winter lingered, it’s not likely many hens got to that point this month. “I haven’t noticed any pheasants starting to prepare nests yet,” said Troy Dale, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in west-central Minnesota’s Lac qui Parle County, “With the late snow melt this year the hens are going to fall a little behind on nest preparation.”

Across the border in South Dakota, Matt Morlock, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II from Volga, says the conditions did put some stress on pheasants, but he’s thankful it was just snow as opposed to ice. “Ice is the real killer on birds, so that was a huge break. The other helpful thing is that it hasn’t been overly cold with these systems, and the fields have maintained some open spots for scratching and feeding. We haven’t been seeing any die-offs or other signs of severe stress. I do think that we are going to see the hens in a little poorer condition this spring as opposed to previous nesting seasons which could have an impact on the number of eggs and chicks produced.”

To the north, moderate temperatures and little precipitation was the story of North Dakota’s winter for the first half. “Then various blizzards hit every region of North Dakota from January to April,” says Matt Olsen, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist from Forman in the southeast part of the state, “The most recent snowstorms in mid-April hit the south-central and far southeast corner the hardest.” Olsen expects there to be reduced nesting cover, a combination of the extended winter and carryover effects from the drought. “Last fall, nearly all Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in North Dakota were opened up for emergency haying and grazing. Consequently, this vegetation has not had the time to recover to be available for quality nesting habitat,” Olsen said, “And with the spring melt being this late, some areas that could have served as nesting habitat will be flooded and will not provide any nesting cover in the near future. “

While the weather hasn’t been ideal for pheasants, compounding the issue is continued upland habitat loss in these states. “North Dakota has also seen a reduction in the amount of land enrolled in CRP which will further reduce the amount of nesting cover on the landscape,” Olsen says.

Adds Morlock, “Drain tiling and grassland conversion will have a far bigger and more widespread impact on our pheasants than the snow ever could.”

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

Winter Pheasant Habitat Conditions

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The winter of 2011-2012 has been mild to nonexistent across pheasant country. Photo by Roger Hill

The winter of 2010-2011 was severe for pheasants across much of their range, combining with habitat loss and a subsequent poor spring resulted in decreased populations in nearly every major pheasant state. The winter of 2011-2012, by comparison, has been mild, which means hens entering the upcoming spring nesting season should be in good shape to take advantage of areas providing quality nesting habitat.

There is also habitat hope on the horizon with a new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Sign-up  this March, a new 750,000 acre CRP practice targeting highly erodible lands, and the reallocation of 1 million acres into some of Pheasants Forever’s favorite Continuous CRP programs.

Great LakesIllinois is experiencing its sixth warmest winter on record, meaning the above average snowfall the state received didn’t persist across the state’s pheasant range for long. “If the trend continues through March , the mild weather should be a boon to pheasant winter survival,” reports Mike Wefer, Ag and Grassland Wildlife Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources…Winter has been nonexistent in Indiana according to Budd Veverka, Farmland Game Research Biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife. Provided there’s not significant spring flooding, Veverka expects the state’s pheasant population to increase some…Ohio’s milder winter has been encouraging, says Nathan Stricker with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Iowa – Is there finally some good news to report for Iowa ringnecks? “Winter so far is a welcomed relief following five consecutive winters of 30-50” snowfall,” says Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. As of the first week in March, statewide snowfall was at 15”. Citing similar patterns from 2002, 2003 and 2005, Bogenschutz expects some population increase if there is little snowfall in March and combined April/May rainfall is below 8”. He also underscored the importance of habitat. “We have some 230,000 acres of CRP expiring this fall. We are putting a lot of effort into the upcoming CRP General Sign-Up.”

Kansas – Kansas is experiencing a fairly mild winter, and adult pheasant survival is expected to be high.  “However, many areas in the state’s primary pheasant range are still drier than normal, and we actually need some moisture, even snow if possible, to get us out of the drought conditions that have plagued western Kansas this last year,” says Dave Dahlgren, Small Game Specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, “Compared to this time last year however, we are faring better, but we are in need of good spring weather to have a fair to good hatch this summer. “Dahlgren says it may take a couple of “rebuilding” years in southeast and southwest Kansas to bring the population back following one of the worst droughts on record.

The national snow depth map as of Monday, March 12, shows the pheasant range virtually devoid of snow cover.

Minnesota – Add Minnesota to the list of states where pheasants needed a break from Old Man Winter, as the population in the state’s core southwest pheasant range was down more than 80 percent last year. So far, they’ve gotten it. “Most of Minnesota’s pheasant range experienced one of the mildest winters in 25 years,” said Kurt Haroldson, Wildlife Research Scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Temperatures were well above normal and, more importantly for pheasant survival, snowfall was well below normal.  In contrast to last winter when persistent deep snow inundated cover and food, snow cover this winter tended to be shallow and short-lived.  Pheasant survival should be well above average during this mild winter.” Haroldson says if weather during the nesting season is favorable, Minnesota’s pheasant population should make great strides toward recovery from the previous winter’s losses, although a full recovery will take more than one year and will also depend on changes in habitat abundance, namely CRP expirations.

Nebraska – After a year in which the state’s overall pheasant population fell 27 percent, the weather fortunes have started off positively for Nebraska ringnecks in 2012. “The winter in Nebraska was overall mild, especially in comparison to the winters of 2009 and 2010,” said Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, “We had few snow events of any consequence, and temperatures were mostly unseasonably warm.  Because of the warm temperatures, snow didn’t last very long when it did snow.  As such, I expect that over-winter survival was good, which should boost production, assuming the spring/summer weather cooperates.” Nebraska will officially assess over-winter pheasant survival with April population surveys.

North Dakota – After three consecutive long winters, it’s been an exceptionally mild one in North Dakota this year. “We expect good survival of pheasants though this winter statewide.  Winter has been exceptionally mild, little snow.  Pheasants seem to be in good shape, at least up to March 1,” reports Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. Even with snow depths at 30 to 40 percent of normal, Kohn says in his part of the country, pheasants aren’t out of clear of winter until about the first week in April. Despite a more favorable winter, North Dakota’s adult spring pheasant population is going to be lower than it has in the last five years, with a breeding population most closely resembling what was observed in the early 2000s.

South Dakota – Pheasants Forever members and pheasants hunters are closely monitoring conditions in South Dakota, where the pheasant population had dropped nearly 50 percent last year. “The ground was brown for a majority of the winter, which will certainly increase pheasant winter survival,” said Travis Runia, Upland Game Biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, adding that predation rates are typically lower for pheasants when there is not any snow on the ground. A Leap Year snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow across the SoDak pheasant belt, but warm temps cut into it quick and Runia says the snow will help “green up” the grasses pheasants focus on for nesting. While the weather side of things has turned rosier, the habitat side isn’t, as the state has lost more than 400,000 CRP acres in five years with another 225,000 set to expire from the program later this year. In addition to this, Runia estimates 75,000 to 100,000 acres of native prairie have been converted to cropland annually since 2008.

West – Like the nearly 1 million acres of CRP lost in the state since 2006, last winter was brutal on Montana’s upland birds. A milder start to 2012 will be critical to any population rebound this year. “Statewide we have had a relatively open winter, said Rick Northrup, Wildlife Habitat Section Supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks…Oregon’s pheasant population was near its modern average heading into winter, which brought little snow to much of the state’s pheasant range. Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says early to mid-spring precipitation is now needed to improve grass and forb production for spring nesting.

Field Notes are written and compiled by Anthony Hauck Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Senate Agriculture Committee Fosters Optimism for 2012 Farm Bill

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Senator Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota farmer Darrel Mosel after the Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing on Tuesday

Yesterday in Washington, D.C., I attended a United States Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on conservation programs and the 2012 Farm Bill.  During the proceedings, a bipartisan group of Senators and a collection of farmers from across the country voiced support for a number of federal conservation programs. Given the current political climate, I took the vocal support for our favorite programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as a positive signal entering this year’s critical Farm Bill debate.  Watch video of the hearing.


Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) kicked off the hearing articulating her support for public access and the Michigan pheasant initiative, specifically noting her attendance at Pheasants Forever’s State Chapter Meeting in Michigan earlier this month.


She also added, “Conservation helps farmers and ranchers to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber while taking care of the land and water.  The Farm Bill is a jobs bill, and that’s as true of the conservation title as it is for anything else in the Farm Bill.”


Following Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) voiced his support for a strong Conservation Reserve Program in the Farm Bill.


U.S. Department of Agriculture officials testifying included NRCS Chief Dave White and FSA Administrator Bruce Nelson. When queried about what the Senate Ag Committee should do about a new Farm Bill, Chief White characterized last year’s Super Committee agreement by Agriculture leaders as having “knocked it out of the park” for conservation and recommended following that path.


Administrator Nelson was asked about the future of CRP.  In his response, he spoke about more diversification and targeting of CRP acres, increased use of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and expanded partnerships like those with Pheasants Forever to provide local wildlife conservation expertise in the form of PF’s Farm Bill Biologists.


Senator John Thune (R-SD), from the pheasant capital of South Dakota, voiced a need for 1.5 million acres of CRP in his home state to continue South Dakota’s $250 million dollar pheasant hunting industry.  He noted the success of targeted practices like CRP SAFE (State Acres For wildlife Enhancement) and Conservation Practice 37, which focuses on duck nesting habitat.


Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) also voiced her support for an entire suite of conservation programs and noted their importance to Minnesota’s hunters and anglers. Senator Klobuchar also spoke about the importance of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) funding in combination with Farm Bill programs.


All things considered, it was reassuring to hear such a large bipartisan group of Senators talk about the importance of conservation programs.  However, talk doesn’t put habitat in the ground, clean water in our streams or roosters in the air, your senators and representatives need to hear from you now about the future of conservation programs.  Please contact your elected official and let them know that you want to see this verbal support for conservation turn into actions and a new Farm Bill with a strong conservation title protecting our nation’s wildlife and natural resources for future generations. 


The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.

Will South Dakota Pheasant Numbers Drop This Year?

Friday, August 5th, 2011

PF Farm Bill Biologist Matt Morlock says that the wet conditions in parts of SD have created an environment of protein-rich bugs in the damp grass, good news for pheasant broods. Pheasants Forever File Photo

Pheasant hunters are anxiously waiting for the results from South Dakota’s annual pheasant brood survey count, which is being conducted this month. Last season’s tough winter, followed up by a wet spring and summer, has some wondering if pheasant numbers in the state will drop.

“Conditions certainly haven’t been ideal,” Travis Runia, South Dakota’s chief upland game biologist with the Game, Fish and Parks, told John Pollmann, a freelance writer who covers outdoors issues for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, in his article this week, Cold winter, heavy rains could hurt pheasant count. And while some areas in South Dakota will undoubtedly be leaner than others due to the effects of the wet weather, it hasn’t all been bad news. In fact, while South Dakota could see a slight overall decrease in numbers, certain areas are sure to have numbers hold steady or even increase. Here’s a snapshot of what South Dakota upland biologists reported:

Eastern South Dakota

“Parts of the state, particularly along the I-29 corridor, have lost good grass cover, and a lot of what remains are CRP acres that are of the wetland variety,” said Matt Morlock, Farm Bill Biologist with Pheasants Forever in east-central South Dakota. “On wet years like this, there’s not a lot of nesting habitat available around those wetland basins, so the larger the buffer of grass a landowner can leave around that area, the better.”

Central South Dakota

“When we’re in a drought cycle, especially in the central part of the state, there is a lot of pasture ground that isn’t of much value for nesting pheasants,” said Runia. “But with all of our moisture this year, those acres of grass look phenomenal and are going to provide excellent nesting cover.”

Northeast South Dakota

Conditions in this part of the state appear to be mimicking last year. Runia says that last summer Brown County was circled as an area that would likely see a big drop in pheasant numbers because of a brutal winter and wet spring. Instead, the county’s pheasant numbers held steady with strong nesting success in areas of good grass – habitat bolstered because of ample moisture.

The results of South Dakota’s pheasant brood survey will be included in Pheasants Forever’s 2011-2012 Pheasant Hunting Forecast sponsored this year by South Dakota Tourism. To receive the Pheasant Hunting Forecast via email, simply sign up for  On the Wing, Pheasants Forever’s monthly eNewsletter.

Field Notes are written and compiled by Anthony Hauck Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauck.


How Big is South Dakota Pheasant Hunting?

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Grasslands and a wild pheasant population of more than 8 million birds keep hunters coming back to South Dakota.

This week, South Dakota released its figures for small game hunting licenses. I doubt many people are drawn there by jackrabbits, so even though it’s officially a “small game license” it could just as well be considered a “pheasant license.”

South Dakota sold more than 180,000 resident and nonresident small game licenses in 2010, and for the eighth year in a row, sold more nonresident licenses (102,003) than resident licenses.

How does the total compare with other states? Here’s the state-by-state breakdown.

State # of Pheasant Hunters
Idaho 20,500
Illinois 22,200
Indiana 11,000
Iowa 74,000
Kansas 108,000
Michigan 56,000
Minnesota 107,000
Missouri 6,800
Montana 27,000
Nebraska 80,000
New York 55,000
North Dakota 107,000
Oregon 6,900
South Dakota 180,000
Texas 18,600
Utah 16,800
Washington 19,500
Wisconsin 60,000

Add it up, and that’s nearly 1 million. I don’t have info for a few states – California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wyoming – so conservatively, we could say 1.2 million people actively pheasant hunt annually. Run the numbers, and approximately 15 percent of the nation’s pheasant hunters are taking to South Dakota fields in a season.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Public Relations Specialist

Day 3 – South Dakota, Part I

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Honk if you see the Rooster Road Trip headed down the highway.

Greetings from Watertown, South Dakota, and thanks for riding along on Pheasants Forever’s Rooster Road Trip.

It’s a bit overcast today in eastern SoDak, but if the rain holds off it should be a great afternoon to pheasant hunt. While the gray skies don’t have us down, what does is having to layover in Watertown a bit long than we’d like this morning. Nothing against South Dakota’s “Rising Star” city, but resolving some internet connection problems wasn’t how we wanted to spend a good chunk of the morning. The rural and openness of pheasant country and 3G internet would seem counterintuitive, but the nature of the Rooster Road Trip is connecting them. We think we’re in fine shape for the rest of the trip, which is good news for those of you following along, and bad news for a few pheasants in South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.  Better connection means more photos and more videos from the road, which we plan to ramp up for the final two-thirds of our journey.

In a short while we’ll be heading down U.S. Highway 212 then steering south toward Huron. Along the way, we’ll be meeting up with Pheasants Forever’s Ben Bigalke at a South Dakota Walk-in area for a quick hunt before making the pilgrimage to the World’s Largest Pheasant, a must see for any pheasant hunter. For the afternoon, Ben has a couple of public areas scoped out for us to hit. We’ll share the hits and misses from with you a bit later today.

Honk if you see us on the road, and thanks for joining us for the Rooster Road Trip!