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Pheasant Populations Look Good, but Will Need Help For the Future

There are good reasons that you are probably seeing a lot of pheasants this spring. First, and most obvious, most of South Dakota currently has a lot of pheasants. In comparison to the rest of the country, South Dakota has always had a lot of pheasants, but in comparing this year to others, the state has a well above average spring population of pheasants.
"There are a ton of reasons we are where we are in regards to pheasant numbers," said George Vandel, Assistant Director of Wildlife for South Dakota Game Fish and Parks. "First we have a lot of birds left over from last season. Although we harvested just short of 2 million birds last year, we had an estimated pre-hunting season population of over 9 million. Second, another pretty mild winter allowed the birds to get through with minimal die off."
That being said, Vandel stresses the fact that the pheasant is a short-lived bird.
"According to our research, only about 15-25% of the total population of pheasants during a hunting season is leftover from the previous season. Spring is a real rough time for hen pheasants. Due to breeding activities, we lose more hen pheasants in the spring than any other time of year.
With the all-important time for hatching quickly approaching, Vandel pointed to four keys on having a successful hatch:
1. Carryover of a strong population of birds.
2. Good nesting conditions (Enough moisture for good vegetation growth but not enough to flood nests.).
3. Good hatching conditions (The peak of the hatch in South Dakota is the second week of June. Key hatching conditions are warm and dry.).
4. Good conditions for survival. (Plenty of vegetation and lots of insects.)
"Weather plays a big part," said Vandel. "As far as weather goes, you need the right amount of moisture just after the hatch of the chicks. Moisture promotes a good population of insects, and that is what the chicks eat exclusively for the first few weeks of their life."
Having a big spring or fall population is no accident however. "The entire key to raising wild pheasants is no secret," said Vandel. "It is habitat. CRP habitat provides everything a pheasant needs. It allows populations to rebound after some sort of tragic event more quickly. Honestly, without the CRP program, you will see a drastic decrease in pheasants across the country. The nesting cover, food plots and winter protection CRP provides is the reason we are enjoying the 'Golden Years' of pheasant hunting right now."
Even with having great habitat conditions, being a baby pheasant in an egg getting ready to hatch is no walk in the field. Only one out of three nests will successfully hatch, even with everything going right. With a successful hatch of 10 to 12 chicks, only half of them will make it to the fall hunting season.
A common myth across the pheasant belt is that a hen will raise a batch of chicks and then re-nest and have another batch. Vandel says this simply doesn't happen.
"The really late chicks people see and think they are a second clutch is normally a hen that maybe had her nest destroyed once or twice already. Nesting is really tough on these birds so a hen raising a second successful batch rarely if ever happens."
So while all the signs point to another banner year, hunters will have to keep an eye on Mother Nature and the Farm Bill for continuing "Golden Years" in regards to pheasants.
"The bottom line is that as long as we have CRP and good nesting cover, pheasants can bounce back from a lot of things. Before CRP we were averaging about 3 million birds in the state. Last year we had almost 10 million. That means a lot to the economy and quality of life South Dakotan's enjoy," said Vandel.

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