Drought could impact South Dakota’s pheasant hunt, but wildlife experts are optimistic about the season

This is how Matt Morlock, the state coordinator of Pheasants Forever, characterized how the 2021 pheasant hunting season is shaping up in early summer. But then came the drought, which Morlock says will certainly impact the pheasant population in the fall. However, recent bouts of rain have led him to believe there will be a lot of roosters in the fields for an above average season.

“We were set up to have a season for the record books. We have had a mild winter with very healthy chickens, ”said Morlock. “But with the drought, we’re definitely going to see impacts on the survival of the chicks. I’ve spoken to a lot of farmers I know in the state, and they’ve told me they still see a lot of chicks, so I’m still optimistic.

Despite the potential effects of the drought, officials at South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are forecasting a “fantastic” pheasant hunting season this year, mainly due to the mild winter the state has experienced.

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The Game, Fish & Parks 2021 Ringneck Outlook which was recently released reported that South Dakotas have “seen birds in record numbers” which would set the stage for a great season.

“Due to a mild winter, increased efforts on habitat management, and intense predator control through the Nest Predator Bounty Program if weather conditions continue, we should expect fantastic bird numbers for the 2021 pheasant season, “said Kevin Robling, GF&P secretary.

While GF&P officials predict a great season for hunters, the roosters projection is not so clear. Over the past 70 years, the state’s pheasant brood survey has provided an in-depth look at the estimated rooster population that hunters have been eagerly awaiting to dissect. The Brood Survey shared scientific data and compared a pheasant index per mile for several areas in South Dakota and provided a statewide snapshot of the bird population.

But after the GF&P Commission decided last year to halt the investigation, the upcoming 2021 pheasant hunting season will mark the first without data on expected roosters. With the end of the Brood Survey Report that was released each year around Labor Day ahead of the start of the pheasant hunting season, the Ringneck Outlook 2021 will serve as a surrogate for now.

Thinking back to the 2020 pheasant hunting season, GF&P officials deemed it “incredible” for the state. According to the Ringneck Outlook 2021, hunters harvested more than 1.1 million birds in 2020. The Ringneck Outlook report predicts the next pheasant hunting season, which runs from October 16 to January 31, “Will prepare to be even better” than last year. season.

While the outlook for ringneck does not include any pheasant per mile index data, it does indicate that early season reports on roosters have been positive. However, the peak of pheasant hatching is in mid-June and drought has affected the process, Morlock said.

“We will probably see a drop in chick survival since we were in the heat of this drought in June at the time of the hatch. The impact of drought creates a lack of insect production, and chicks must have insects to survive, ”said Morlock, noting that insects are the main source of food for chicks.

However, Morlock said recent rainstorms received in southeastern South Dakota in recent weeks will make a significant difference in chick survival rates as the humidity will help the insect population to thrive. .

“We have a bit more humidity now, which will help to survive a bit. The chicks we have on the ground will do well, ”he said.

With a few summer months remaining, there are even more possibilities for humidity. While Morlock has said the dry conditions to start the summer will likely smother what could have been “a season for the record books,” he is confident it will be a great season in the fall.

“I don’t think it will be what it could have been, but it will still be great,” Morlock said.

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