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 Wild Pheasant counts determined that population in South Dakota have returned to levels below the enourmously high numbers of the past couple years.

However, the pheasant population in the main part of the state’s pheasant range will still provide quality hunting opportunities.

From 2003 through 2010, the statewide pheasant-per-mile index was at levels not seen in the previous 40 years. The index this year is 46 percent lower than the 2010 index and 41 percent lower than the average of the past 10 years.

“We observed abnormally high mortality of hen pheasants during the brutal winter of 2010-11,” explained Jeff Vonk, Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, “The loss of that reproductive potential inhibited the ability of our pheasant population to rebound to the record levels that we have enjoyed in recent years.”

Declines in the counts were consistent across the state and most pronounced in eastern South Dakota, where winter’s grip was tightest and grassland nesting habitat is diminished.

“We knew this day was coming when important pheasant habitats provided by the cover in Conservation Reserve Program fields were lost,” Vonk said.

CRP enrollments in the state are currently at 1.17 million acres, down from 1.56 million acres in 2007. The reduction equates to over 600 square miles of grassland habitat.

“On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised how well pheasants responded in central South Dakota, where abundant moisture from winter snow and spring rain allowed grasslands to flourish and provide the essential habitat for excellent pheasant production,” Vonk said.

The counts in the main pheasant range are similar to or higher than the counts in 2002 when hunters bagged 1.2 million pheasants. Pheasant hunters harvested 1.8 million pheasants in 2010.

“All things considered, pheasant numbers in much of the traditional pheasant range of the state are still good despite the declines in the counts,” Vonk said. “Much of South Dakota will continue to provide a premier opportunity to hunt pheasants.”

The complete 2011 Pheasant Brood Survey Report, including local survey results for different areas of the state, can be found online at http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/small-game/pheasant-outlook.aspx

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