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Posted on Thu, Jun. 24, 2004

Pheasant count largest in 40 years


Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A mild winter and decent nesting conditions this spring could bolster a 2003 pheasant population that was the state's largest in 40 years.

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks expected a big jump in the pheasant count last fall, based on good weather and a surprisingly strong summer brood survey.

The GF&P now estimates there were 8.8 million pheasants before the 2003 hunting season began and a hunter harvest of 1.8 million birds.

Both are the highest since 1963, when there were 10 million birds and a harvest of just over 3 million.

The GF&P will know more about this year's pheasant population following a late-summer brood survey.

"For the third year in a row we had a winter that can best be described as a nonfactor when it came to pheasant survival," said Tony Leif, the GF&P's pheasant biologist.

Even though there are some bird losses every winter, milder weather means more birds are available for nesting, which begins in May and typically peaks in the third week of June.

"The dryness this spring was a concern for us early as much as it was for all the farmers because we certainly need to have a crop of habitat to grow pheasants, too," Leif said.

Then some rain triggered vegetation growth in the main part of the pheasant range.

"When we got into May and June the preference would be to see some warmer temperatures and maybe a little less frequent rain, yet we don't believe those unseasonably cool temperatures and precipitation had a significant detrimental effect."

"It wasn't the best, but it wasn't a catastrophe either," Leif said of the spring nesting conditions.

Heavy rain likely destroyed nests in some parts of the state. Hens will abandon nests that are in standing water but will try again.

"The vast majority will try to nest at least three times if they are repeatedly unsuccessful in their attempts. Some will make as many as four or five tries. That's part of the reason we have an abundance of pheasants and they are prolific is their tenacity in nesting," Leif said.

The nesting impulse means hens could still be on nests into July.

The rain delayed the hay harvest, giving pheasants additional time in the heavy cover, and it spurred plant growth and the accompanying insect life that nourishes the chicks.

Final figures aren't compiled yet, but the GF&P estimates there were 78,600 resident pheasant hunters last year and 85,400 nonresidents. It's the second consecutive year that nonresidents outnumbered resident hunters.

Pheasant hunting this year begins with the youth season Oct. 2-3 and the resident-only season Oct. 9-11. The regular season opens Oct. 16.

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