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The third Saturday in South Dakota has always become something of an unofficial state holiday. The time-honoured tradition in the state for the pheasant hunting season opener brings hunters from across the state and further afield to what is indisputably the pheasant capital of the world.

Unlike last year, that had seen a significant drop in the pheasant population, this year’s roadside count estimated the pheasant population to have increased by approximately 76%. This is great news for many hunters who are looking forward to hiking through the fields ready to bag themselves a bird.

The Chinese Ringneck Pheasant is a resilient bird that can cope with most weather conditions. However, it is still threatened by the reduction in the nesting habitat and cover. The decline in the available ground providing this is having a significant impact on the pheasant populations.

The loss of much of this habitat can be directly related to the reduction of the Conservation Reserve Program land enrolled throughout the state.

In 2007, one and a half million acres of land had been enrolled in the CRP scheme in the state. By October 2014, this had almost halved to 883,000 acres. There has been some new land enrolled in the habitat preservation scheme and some expiring CRP lands have been re-enrolled. However, the net loss is a massive blow for pheasant conservation.

There is little argument that the decline in suitable pheasant habitat is a major contributor to the reduction in the pheasant populations. Without support from major programs being implemented by groups like the Pheasant Habitat Work Group and uptake of the new Farm Bill sodsaver, it is likely that there will be a decline in the pheasant populations.

Too low a population would be a disaster for South Dakota whose pheasant industry is worth over $200 million every year. There should also be concerns for those who enjoy hunting. For many it is not just the thrill of the harvest, but the enjoyment of spending time with friends and family. Without the pheasant numbers – both of these are under threat.

Why do you go pheasant hunting? How can the pheasant populations be saved?

Let us know in the comments below.


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